Student power: boys and girls promote handwashing in their school and community

In the places like schools, where children learn and play, frequent handwashing with soap is one of the simplest ways of keeping them healthy

Oluwatosin Akingbulu
Schoolboy washing his hands
UNICEF Nigeria/2018/Esiebo

22 March 2020

During a global pandemic, one of the cheapest, easiest, and most important ways to prevent the spread of a virus is by handwashing frequently with soap and running water.

Handwashing
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Owoicho
Handwashing with soap and running water prevents the spread of diseases.

Touching contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, table surfaces and whiteboards can cause germs to accumulate on children’s hands. In the places like schools, where children learn and play, frequent handwashing with soap is one of the simplest ways of keeping them healthy.

Schoolchildren in class
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Owoicho
Schoolchildren in class at the Urie Primary School, Owodokpokpo-Igbide, Delta State.

At Urie Primary School in Owodokpokpo-Igbide, Isoko South, Delta State, boys and girls created an ‘environmental health club’ to promote handwashing with soap in their school and community.

Schoolchildren preparing for a hygiene and sanitation exercise
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Owoicho
Members of the environmental health club during a preparatory session for a hygiene and sanitation exercise in Urie Primary School, Delta State.

12-year-old John Mark Okeghene, a member of the environmental health club, leads a session on handwashing with his classmates. He teaches them the importance of handwashing, the necessary steps, and why it is important to use soap during handwashing.

“I always tell my classmates to wash their hands, especially palm-to-palm, with soap, under running water,” says John Mark.

Learning about handwashing
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Owoicho
John Mark, a schoolboy at Urie Primary School in Delta State, leads a hygiene promotion session on handwashing in class.
Learning about handwashing
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Owoicho
Schoolchildren learning about handwashing in class.

The environmental health club members also lead practical sessions during their lunch hour, when students gather to wash their hands before eating. The following step-by-step process is followed for effective handwashing:

Step 1: Wet hands with running water

Step 2: Apply enough soap to cover wet hands

Step 3: Scrub all surfaces of the hands – including back of hands, between fingers and under nails – for at least 20 seconds.

Step 4: Rinse thoroughly with running water

Step 5: Dry hands with a clean cloth or single-use towel

Handwashing
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Owoicho
Environmental health club members at Urie Primary School, Delta State, practice handwashing during their lunch break.

UNICEF’s effort in promoting handwashing with soap in schools, as part of a larger water, sanitation and hygiene programme funded by the European Union, highlights how important it is to involve children themselves as active participants and change agents for the health of their communities.

Schoolgirl promoting hygiene
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Owoicho
13-year-old Ovuoke Oghenerukome, member of the environmental health club in Urie Primary School, Delta State, promotes handwashing in her school and community.
Schoolboy promoting handwashing
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Owoicho
12-year-old John Mark Okeghene, member of the environmental health club in Urie Primary School, Delta State, promotes handwashing in his school and community.

As schools begin to shut down in Nigeria to curb the spread of COVID-19, the schoolchildren carry the message of handwashing to their homes and neighbours. The responsibilities given to the environmental health club members also creates in them a sense of responsibility and ownership that makes good hygiene behaviours more likely to stay with them throughout their lives.