“I wash my hands as soon as I come to school. We know that dirty hands can make us sick,” says Talia de Oliveira (12) while washing her hands with soap before the meal break at Bairopite Primary School in Timor-Leste.
Celestino da Costa Novo (10), 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 in Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital. With ten classrooms and toilets supplied with water through a pump/tank system, the school is catering to the needs of more than 750 students. According to a recent report, only 28 per cent of the country’s schools has daily use of running water and just 40 per cent of schools have toilets.
Washing hands before eating and after going to the toilet drastically reduces the spread of diarrhoeal disease and has far reaching effects on the health and welfare of children and communities. Diarrhoea remains the second largest cause of under-five mortality globally and has strong links to chronic malnutrition and stunting.
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. 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 a low cost but effective hand-washing facility installed.
The mechanism is simple but effective and is designed for 48 children to wash their hands with soap at the same time.
“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.”
Bringing change by raising awareness
Students like Talia learn basic hygiene practices as part of hygiene promotion taught at school. “I guide my younger nieces and nephews at home to wash their hands after using the toilet,” says Talia. This is a sign that the hand-washing messages taught at school are also reaching families.
“Once the students hear the bell ring for lunch, without being told, they line up on the veranda to wash their hands,” says Guilhermina. “The students are very enthusiastic about washing their hands!”