Friday, February 12, 2016

The happy habits of handwashing at a remote primary school

By Ashanti Bleich and Chanthea Chaing

Students at Hunneng Kaoh Pen Primary School using their new handwashing facilities
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Ashanti Bleich

Hunneng Kaoh Pen Primary School is located on an island in the Mekong River, in Kampong Cham province. It is accessed by a bamboo bridge, in a quiet spot surrounded by trees.

Every morning around 7am, the leafy, quiet schoolyard fills with the chatter and laughter of around 370 students. But before they can start their studies, they must do something very important: wash their hands. With their teachers’ guidance, every child takes a few minutes to use the new handwashing facility that was built at their school in 2014. They are careful to use the six steps taught by their teachers to ensure their hands are thoroughly clean. A second washing session is scheduled during the mid-morning break.

Sambath Pheng, a Grade 4 teacher, explains that handwashing has become a ritual since the facility was built by UNICEF and RainWater Cambodia, with funding from AEON. “By starting the day with clean hands, children learn to wash their hands regularly. It has changed their behaviour towards a more hygienic way of living.”

The bamboo bridge that provides access to the school
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/ Ashanti Bleich

“Children love this session,” she says. “They wash their hands together with soap enthusiastically. It brings happiness to the start of the day!”

A rainwater tank installed by the UNICEF programme and a pre-existing tube well provide water for the system, which includes nine latrines, group and individual handwashing facilities, and ceramic filters in each classroom to provide clean drinking water. This is a big improvement for the school, where students previously had to share four latrines and there was nowhere to wash hands. Clean drinking water was also unavailable at the school.

Students painted the new rainwater tank to show their enthusiasm
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Ashanti Bleich

Similar facilities have been installed in 36 schools in Kampong Cham and Kandal provinces in 2014 and 2015, benefiting a total of 9,337 schoolchildren, as part of the AEON-funded project.

Along with the new facilities, staff from Rainwater Cambodia and provincial government departments train school staff on the importance of drinking safe water and proper hygiene. School directors, teachers and student council members then make their own lesson plans to share this knowledge with students.

Grade 6 students Narong and Theary wash their hands at the facility next to the latrines
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Ashanti Bleich

Hunneng Kaoh Pen Primary School’s Grade 6 students Theary and Narong are 12 years old. They have become accustomed to washing their hands after using the latrine, an important practice in proper hygiene and controlling the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea. Both are very happy with the new facilities. “There are many facilities at school, so I can use the one next to the latrines or the one next to my classroom,” Theary says. “It’s simple.”

“I actually prefer the group handwashing facility because at the same time that I wash my hands I am watering the plants,” Narong adds.
Each classroom has a ceramic filter from which all students have easy access to clean drinking water.

Students hold up bottles of clean drinking water that they have filled up from the class’ water filter
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Ashanti Bleich

The pupils at the school are also taking responsibility for maintaining their new facilities. Teachers divide the different tasks among the children, ensuring the latrines, group handwashing facilities, classrooms and playground are clean and properly maintained. Every student has a job, involving them in looking after the facilities for future generations of children and also teaching good hygiene techniques they can also use at home.

The school’s principal, Kong Thea, is proud and enthusiastic about his school’s new facilities.

“My goal is to create the best study environment for my students,” he says. “I am very proud of my outstanding students and how well they are using these new facilities. I want them all to succeed!”

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