Thursday, August 25, 2016

Handwashing facilities, latrines and clean water: A better study environment for children!

By Ashanti Bleich

Students at Tekhak Panh Nhor Primary School,
Phnom Penh, using their new handwashing facilities
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Ashanti Bleich
Tekhak Panh Nhor Primary School is located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. During break time, all the students stream out of the classrooms. Many of them get a snack, to keep them going for the rest of the day. But before eating, they go and wash their hands at the new handwashing facilities supported by UNICEF and ESC-BORDA (Environmental Sanitation Cambodia - Bremen Overseas Research & Development Association) Cambodia, with funding from the Australian Committee for UNICEF. The students are very proud to demonstrate how they have learned to wash their hands: the six steps and the foam! The ‘six steps’ is a series of handwashing techniques which ensures that hands are thoroughly clean. The children know that the foam indicates they have used enough soap, and they know the key times for handwashing are before eating and after using the toilet.

Latrines and ceramic filters for clean drinking water have also been installed at the school by UNICEF and ESC-BORDA Cambodia. Training has been provided to staff members at the school on the operation and maintenance of the facilities. All of the students have been taught about hygiene, handwashing and how to use their new facilities.

The bell rings and all the students go back to class. The school is all quiet again – the perfect opportunity to talk to the school director, Hoeung Hum. Mr. Hum says that, “The students have changed their behaviour and are washing their hands much more frequently.” He explains that the old latrines were in a very poor condition and too few in number. Children often had to go to the toilet out in the open, in the area surrounding the school. Open defecation leads to inadequate hygiene and puts children in danger of deadly faecal-oral diseases like diarrhoea. In the past, Mr. Hum explains, this problem was compounded by a complete lack of handwashing facilities at the school. “None were available on the campus so unfortunately handwashing wasn’t frequently practiced.”

Since the facilities were installed, Mr. Hum says he has noticed that the absence rate of pupils has decreased. “Firstly, pupils are much more comfortable coming to school as they can use the clean latrines,” he explains. “Also, students are less sick thanks to the availability of drinking water and handwashing facilities.” Mr. Hum is very happy and believes the new facilities have brought major benefits for the school. He is also excited to witness changes around the school. “Students are bringing their own plastic bottle to school and they refill it before going back home,” Mr. Hum enthuses. “It shows how their behaviour’s changed!”

Students going back to class after break time at Tekhak Panh Nhor
Primary School in Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Ashanti Bleich
On the other side of Phnom Penh, Thnout Khpous Primary School has also benefitted from the same project. The school director, Lim Dara, explains the poor facilities students had to face in the past. “The old toilets were in a bad condition. There was no water supply so it was very smelly.” Due to the lack of water there were also no handwashing facilities, putting children at risk of hygiene-related diseases such as diarrhoea.

Now, the school’s main source of water is rainwater that is collected and stored during the rainy season. A newly-installed system collects rainwater from the roof of the latrine building and stores it in a large tank, which supplies the flushing toilets, handwashing facilities, and ceramic filters. If water in the tank runs low during the dry season, it can be supplemented with a new source of piped water. Mr. Dara is very proud of these new facilities, explaining that they create a better study environment for his students. He has put up posters next to the handwashing facilities to remind children about the six handwashing steps that they have learned.

The school’s pupils are also taking responsibility for looking after their new facilities. Mr. Dara has organized a maintenance schedule for the students. Each class takes turns to clean the facilities and to make sure that soap is always available. Giving responsibilities to the children motivates them and reinforce hygienic practices. According to Mr. Dara, the new facilities have had a big impact on students’ behaviour, all well as supporting health improvements and a decrease in the school’s absence rate.

Sreyneat (11) is a Grade 4 student at Thnout Khpous
Primary School in Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Ashanti Bleich

Eleven-year-old Sreyneat is a Grade 4 student at Thnout Khpous Primary School. Once a week her class is responsible for cleaning the school’s toilet and handwashing facilities. “Now I like to use the latrines because they are much cleaner,” Sreyneat says. “I often wash my hands because we have two handwashing facilities, one next to the latrines and one next to the snack seller, so it’s easy!”

Buna (11) is a Grade 4 student at Thnout Khpous
Primary School in Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Ashanti Bleich

Five ceramic water filters have also been installed at the school, which filter water to ensure students always have clean drinking water available. The students and teachers take turns refilling the filters around twice a day, which is enough to supply drinking water for everyone at the school. Many students now bring their own plastic bottles and refill them throughout the day. Buna, 11, explains that previously there was no drinking water available at the school. He used to bring water from home, but it wasn’t sufficient for the whole day and he had to resort to drinking untreated water. Since the ceramic filters were installed, he doesn’t have to worry any more.

Today a total of 347 students at Tekhak Panh Nhor Primary School and 476 students at Thnout Khpous Primary School have access to latrines, are able to wash their hands and drink clean water. This is a significant improvement for the students and has an impact on the whole community. A suitable environment for education is the starting point for a better future!

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