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Building a group handwashing station: Providing children with a healthier learning experience

UNICEF South Africa/2018/Mojapelo
© UNICEF South Africa/2018/Mojapelo
UNICEF South Africa Education Specialist, Dr Saadhna Panday-Soobrayan (L) and Communication Specialist, Sudeshan Reddy (R) with the construction team at Montsosi Primary School.

By Sudeshan Reddy, Communication Specialist, UNICEF South Africa

Sebokeng, 19 April 2019 - Rainclouds gather over the highveld as workers painstakingly mix cement, pile bricks and erect a tin roof on the grounds of Montsosi Primary School in Sebokeng, a township west of Johannesburg.

By the end of the working day, these men would have completed the construction of a group handwashing station for the children of Montsosi Primary School – and in doing so, would have contributed to a healthier school environment.

With funding from Woolworths and MySchool, My Village My Planet, UNICEF, along with the Gauteng Department of Basic Education and MIET Africa, are constructing 20 handwashing stations at schools in Sedibeng East and West, Gauteng. The group handwashing stations are aimed at providing under-resourced communities with a cost-effective facility to enhance the hygiene, health and education levels of learners. There is compelling evidence that regular handwashing in school contributes to healthier children and, in turn lowers absenteeism from school.

The men have been working since 8am and by 2pm, before the rain arrives, a concrete slab is complete and dry, allowing for the remainder of the construction. For the manager of the construction site, Lawrence Motswele, it is critical that the construction be completed before sunset as the new school term begins the next day – and the group handwashing station will be ready for use. Lawrence has been involved in the construction of these stations in the neighbouring Mpumalanga province and speaks proudly of the positive difference that these installations make to the health and wellbeing of young lives.

UNICEF South Africa/2018
© UNICEF South Africa/2018
The completed group handwashing station.

In patient detail, Lawrence explains how one has to first lay the concrete foundation on which the plastic pipe will then be laid. While the concrete dries over approximately five hours, a tin roof is erected to provide shelter from the harsh sun and rain. Once the concrete has set, the plastic piping is installed with the 16 nozzles that will allow groups of children to wash their hands and brush their teeth at the same time, thereby entrenching handwashing and oral hygiene as a habit.

To highlight the sustainability of this initiative, schools are encouraged to grow a food garden around the handwashing station to benefit from the run-off water. The vegetables grown will be used to supplement school meals. In doing so, the nutrition and overall health of the learners is further enhanced.

For Dr. Saadhna Panday-Soobrayan, Education Specialist at UNICEF South Africa, the handwashing station is an excellent example of partnership in action. This innovative life-changing installation was devised by MIET Africa and UNICEF, based on a similar model in Zambia and tested in Mpumalanga province.

This development is appreciated by Ms. Eunice Magwa from the Gauteng Department of Basic Education who commends Woolworths and UNICEF for their commitment to a healthy school environment and keeping learners in school.

Sebokeng literally means "gathering place" in the local seSotho language so it is fitting that this group handwashing station will provide a gathering space on a regular basis for 16 learners at time as they wash their hands and, in doing so, have a healthier start to their school lives.





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