Children take lead in championing handwashing in school

In Vanuatu, UNICEF supports the WASH in Schools programme

Rebecca Olul
In Vanuatu, UNICEF supports the WASH in Schools programme
UNICEFPacific/2022/Olul
24 March 2022

We use water in everything

Always drink water

Together we use water

Every people want to swim in the water

Rain makes water bigger and bigger

For 12-year-old Stefny Wakus who wrote this acrostic poem, water is everything. Stefny is a sixth-grader at Ranmawot Primary School, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, and is also a member of the school WASH club. Every morning, she and her friends make sure all the handwashing buckets are full of water and that there is soap for students in their class to wash their hands.

Sixth grader Stefny Wakus,  12-year-old, a member of the Ranmawot Primary School WASH club, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
12-year-old Stefny Wakus, a member of the Ranmawot Primary School WASH club, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu.

Ten-year-old Ryan Vanai from Grade four takes his role just as seriously. This morning together with Joana Warong, another fourth-grader, they carry the handwashing bucket to the tap, turn it on and fill it up to the brim. Together they haul it to the spot outside their classroom to set up ready for the children to line up for handwashing after picking up some rubbish.

Ryan Vanai (right) and Joana Warong set up ready for the children to line up for handwashing after picking up rubbish.
Ryan Vanai (right) and Joana Warong set up ready for the children to line up for handwashing after picking up rubbish.

“We have to check that students are washing their hands,” says Ryan. “If they don’t wash their hands, we remind them”.

“Sometimes we find it hard with the class ones,” says Joana. “But it’s important that we wash our hands to protect ourselves”.

For the WASH club this morning, a surprise visit makes it feel a bit like Christmas. Due to heavy rains and bad road conditions, Acting School Improvement Officer Priscilla Lulu made a 45-minute trip by boat from nearby Pangi bringing handwashing buckets with all the fittings, boxes of soaps, and menstrual hygiene kits.

“Now you have to work with your pair to check that the fitting is in properly,” says Kenny Ansen, the school’s Deputy WASH Master. “Once you’ve checked then you are done.”

The staff room is a bustle of activity as the WASH club girls and boys eagerly fit their new handwashing buckets. Each pair takes turns fitting and checking their work to make sure that they have done it right.

As for the menstrual hygiene kits, they’re handed directly into the custody of the class 1 teacher. “The girls in class 5 and 6 know that they would go to the class 1 teacher if they see their sik mun [period] at school,” says Stefny.

Although Kenny Ansen is close to retiring, his energy and passion for the role he plays at the school are evident.

WASH Clubs like the Ranmawot Primary School club are an important part of the WASH in Schools Programme. “It is powerful when children themselves are engaged to share hygiene messages with other children and to monitor and re-fill handwashing stations and ensure there is soap,” says Kenny.

Ranmawot Primary School is perched at the top of an incline. Boasting 140 children this year, including a child with disability, ensuring an operational WASH in Schools programme is vital.

“So many activities happen under the programme,” says school principal Ruben Tabi. “Since the start of the programme, we’ve seen fewer children coming to school with colds, red eyes and even small sores on their legs. The overall health of our students has improved,” he adds.

With the health of the children improved, there are also gains for learning in the classroom. “Children are a lot more alert and able to concentrate on their work,” says Rueben.

                   “Wash, Wash, Washem han

                   Yumi plei wan gem

                   Skrabem, rabem, skrajem, rabem

                  Germs i ron ron wei”

The students join a chorus of a handwashing song at the end of their WASH club meeting bringing the message home. “It's important to wash, scrub and rub your hands to get rid of germs.” And for children, what better way than to use games and songs.

“It's important that my school, family and community learn that it's important to wash your hands with soap and water,” says Stefny. “When I grow up, I want to become a teacher to help my family and community.”

WASH Clubs like the Ranmawot Primary School club are an important part of the WASH in Schools Programme piloted in Penama Province by the Ministry of Education & Training with the support of UNICEF and financial assistance from the Government of New Zealand.