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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Global Handwashing Day: Children lead the way in Afghanistan, Somalia and Mozambique

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2008/Sweeting
Young girls wash their hands at a water point near their school in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province.

NEW YORK, USA, 15 October 2008 – Millions of children in 70 countries around the world are marking the first-ever Global Handwashing Day with a simple act that will protect them from disease and save their lives.

The message is badly needed in places such as Afghanistan, where a recent government study shows that only one in three Afghan mothers washes her hands before feeding her children.

To raise awareness of the benefits of handwashing with soap – and the dangers of diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia, which can be caused by poor hygiene – drawing contests, games and events have been organized for schoolchildren in 34 Afghan provinces today. Public service announcements are running on radio and television, and in national newspapers, as well.

“Schoolchildren, teachers, NGOs, government institutions and the communities … are contributing to the prevention of diseases and deaths among the population, and particularly children,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbnegue. 
Somali school girl advocates for hygiene
In Northeast Somalia, Salmo Said Musse, 9, has become a handwashing advocate in her community of Biyo Kulule village.

© UNICEF Somalia/2008
Salmo, 9 (left), washes her hands with soap while her school friend Naimo looks on in Bossaso, Northeast Somalia.

Water-borne diseases account for almost 20 per cent of deaths of children under five in Somalia, and only a quarter of Somalis have access to adequate sanitation facilities.

Salmo won a school essay competition with an account of how she came to understand the importance of handwashing with soap and her own efforts to get her friends to do so.

“I used to think when children suffer from diarrhoea, that it is punishment from God. One day, I overheard something from the radio that the diarrhoea is a result of bad hygiene.” she wrote in her essay. 

Salmo’s is among 90 schools participating in a week of activities in which more than 20,000 children are expected to take part.

Youths learn from peers in Mozambique
Young people are also showing the way to better hygiene practices in Mozambique, where third-grade students at Nhanhubua primary school, on the outskirts of Quelimane, took over the classroom.

© UNICEF Mozambique/2008/Machiana
Odécio Mário, 18, shows younger students how to wash their hands at Nhanhubua primary school in Zambézia province, Mozambique.

“Who knows how to wash their hands?” asked Odecio Mario, 18, chairperson of Quelimane’s Forum of School Sanitation Committees, which brings together sanitation groups from 27 primary schools.

After few students raised their hands at a recent session on hygiene, Odecio invited them to come to the front of the classroom, where two buckets of water, a bar of soap and a towel were placed on the floor.

“OK then, show us how you wash your hands at home,” Odecio said with a grin. “Your colleagues would also like to learn from you.”

Roshan Khadivi (Afghanistan), Denise Shepherd Johnson (Somalia) and Emidio Machiana (Mozambique) provided the reporting for this story.



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