Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A School Group Hand-Washing Facility: Helping students to change habits


“We know that dirty hands can make us sick and worms could get in our stomachs
 if we eat food without washing our hands,” says Talia de Oliveira, (12) student of
Bairopite Primary School. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/ahelin
“I wash my hands as soon as I come to school. We know that dirty hands can make us sick and worms could get in our stomachs if we eat food without washing our hands,” says Talia de Oliveira (12), while she was washing her hands with soap before the meal break at Bairopite Primary School. She explains, “As I may have been holding something dirty I am keen to use soap to wash my hands before eating.”

Celestino da Costa Novo (12), standing almost a head shorter than Talia, was also washing his hands. With his spiky hair and his cheeky grin, he declares that the school’s hand-washing facility “helps us make sure we have good health and that’s very good for our future!”

Washing hands with soap is now common practice among the students of the Bairopite Primary School, situated in the area of Bairopite in Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital. Bairopite is one of the more recently settled areas of Dili; many of the buildings are small, concrete, slightly thrown-together in appearance with tin rooves and little in the way of gardens. Educating the area’s many children, the school, in contrast, is well constructed, surrounded by a wall with a brightly coloured cartoon mural on the outside.

With ten classrooms and toilets supplied with water through a functioning pump/tank system, the school is catering to the needs of more than 750 students. According to the EMIS report 2016 of Timor-Leste's Ministry of Education, only 28 per cent of the country’s schools has daily use of running water and just 40 per cent of schools have toilets. The school is certainly beating these statistics.


The Group Hand-Washing Facility makes things better
The school had the minimal infrastructure for running water but often faced challenges in meeting the students’ needs. In 2015, the school - jointly with Vila Verde Primary School - received a group hand-washing facility from the Ministry of Education as part of the basic hygiene programme supported by UNICEF. These two schools were selected to have installed a low cost but effective hand-washing facility.

Clean hands mean good health. Celcia Soares Baros, 6 years,
rubs her hands thoroughly with soap at Escola Vila Verde in Dili.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/ahelin
The mechanism is simple but effective. The facility is designed for 48 children to wash their hands with soap at a time. The metal structure has a long trough to catch and drain away the grey water and above a fixed parallel pipe − from which pieces of soap hang at regular intervals − drips water at a steady rate, when the water is turned on. The introduction of the new hand-washing device was beneficial for the students as well as for the teachers.

“The school used to use water buckets that had to be carried to the classrooms for the students to wash their hands. It took a lot of time and it was hard work!” says Guilhermina de Jesus, who has taught at the school since 2000. “Teachers were all very relieved when the hand-washing facility was installed. It means we don’t have to throw away all the dirty water – that was the biggest problem with using buckets,” Guilhermina continues. “The facility works very well and it is much easier to make sure the students all have clean hands to eat their food.”

Although the school day is divided into three teaching shifts based on class levels (7−10.30 am; 10.30 am −2 pm; 2−5.30 pm), that is still many pairs of hands that need to be clean at one time!


Bringing change by raising awareness
Students like Talia have learned basic hygiene practices as part of hygiene promotion taught at school. Talia demonstrates her learning as she recounts, “I guide my younger nieces and nephews at home to wash their hands after using the toilet”. This is a sign that the hand-washing message is going through to some students’ families.

With close to half of Timor-Leste’s population under the age of 18, Talia’s message reinforcement is helping the children who will eventually follow her to school to gain some of the basics in hygiene. Hopefully, through improved hygiene, children will get sick less often and so miss less school, a factor that can help reduce the current primary school repetition rate of 15 percent (Source: EMIS 2015).

Handwashing does not only keep germs at bay –
it's also a fun for the students of Bairopite Primary School in Dili.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2017/ahelin
“Once the students hear the signal to announce that class is over for lunch break, without being told, they line up on the veranda to wash their hands,” says Guilhermina. “The students are very enthusiastic about washing their hands. If we teachers are not there to monitor, the hand washing becomes quite lively!”

As Talia and her friends line up to go into class, hands clean and minds ready to learn, it was clear that this group of learners already has an advantage over the rest of their half of the population; they definitely understood the basics of good hygiene. And that, for World Water Day on 22 March, is an important step and contribution towards meeting Timor-Leste’s commitments to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on Quality Education, and 6 on Availability and Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation for all.

By, Emma Coupland, UNICEF Consultant

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