Schools present a unique opportunity to engage young children and imbibe in them good hygiene practices and the importance of hand-washing with soap. Aga Khan Foundation is partnering with Reckitt Benckiser under the Dettol Banega Swasth India Campaign, and is reaching out to 434,991 children in 3,000 schools in six states in India, in fun and engaging ways. Grade-appropriate curriculum, developed by RB on simple and basic themes of hygiene, are being used by school teachers to spread the message of good health and hygiene.
Recognizing that healthy hygiene practices, if initiated during childhood, are not only difficult to change but also influence a person’s future health, AKF is specifically focussing on teaching young children the importance of hand-washing with soap, especially before the school mid-day meals and after toilet use.
Adoption of these practices however, must be supported with a consistent and adequate supply of soap. Schools often face paucity of funds, especially to cater to a continuous supply of hygiene products, particularly soap. The existing funds for schools, are often earmarked for other activities, reducing the focus on consumables. All of which impacts the continuous supply of soaps in schools, and therefore affects regularization of handwashing with soap.
An innovative and yet simple intervention is the establishment of Soap Banks in schools to ensure a regular supply of soap. They are a collection-based model pioneered by AKF that addresses the existing gap of hygiene resources in schools by creating a repository of soaps through voluntary contributions from school children, their parents, teachers, and the wider community as a result of community dialogue and advocacy. The AKF has been working on piloting the concept of soap banks and, till date, 400+ banks have been established in schools, with efforts underway to increase coverage in other schools, helping regularize hand-washing before mid day meals across these schools.
It is a simple, cost effective and child centered intervention to ensure an assured supply of soaps in schools. To further sustain this, AKF is working to sensitize parents, teachers and the school management committees on the importance of handwashing and the necessity of keeping soaps in schools. This is being done through several door-to-door sensitization campaigns, rallies conducted by children, and other engaging events such as street theatre and community meetings. All of which have resulted in voluntary donations of soaps in schools by parents, community members, teachers and the school management committees.
While soaps are being made available, it is equally essential to track its consumption and utilization, to ensure that at any given point in time, a bar of soap is readily available to children to wash their hands. For this, AKF has estimated that a school child requires four soaps (60 mg) per year at a cost of Rs 50 for hand-washing.
The collection of soaps in these schools is monitored through a committee of young children that is proactively taking ownership of hygiene in schools, and maintaining these soap banks in dedicated spaces called hygiene corners. This committee, or child parliaments, Bal Sansad, as they are commonly known, have been fostered by AKF as platforms of young children who can assume a leadership role in their schools, overseeing various aspects around health and hygiene. Elected through a voting process, this 9-13-member committee drawn from grades 5 and above assumes responsibility as the school Prime Minister, Deputy Minister, Education Minister, health Minister and so forth. Today, these child parliaments are undertaking daily monitoring of hand-washing practices before mid-day meals and checking the personal hygiene of students during the morning assembly. A critical responsibility of these children clubs is also to track consumption and utilization of soaps.
Linked with this is regular dialogue with school management committee to plan and budget for improved child-friendly WASH facilities in schools, including hand-washing platforms. The promotion of hygiene practices can help cut the transmission routes of several water-borne diseases — contributing to the reduction of disease burden amongst communities, particularly children. Adoption of improved hygiene practices plays an important role in the prevention of diseases related to water and sanitation.
ADRA India is implementing a hand-washing project in 60 tea gardens. The objective is to bring behavioral change among the school children, and percolate the message to their family, neighbors and society. The methodology is by organizing hand-washing programs at schools, and tracking the students who are spreading the message to their family and community, and appreciating the child with an appreciation certificate and a HERO badge. Around 3,466 children were trained, and given the badge.
A Peter Warrenberg WASH project in Mulanje district. The organization noted that access to clean and safe water was a bigger challenge in the area, and was even affecting women’s participation in development and economic activities. The activity was specifically designed to encourage communities to have and use clean latrines, to help them prevent water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.
The objective of this project is to significantly reduce the prevalence of diarrhoeal and water-borne diseases in the Yao Sanitary District, Till now, there are several achievements in the form of borewells with human power pumps, rehabilitation of borewells, construction of institutional latrines, training of people to repair the pumps, establishment of hygiene clubs in schools, and 300 sensitization sessions.
Distributed 250,000 soaps in primary schools. Besides, more than 330,000 Dettol pouches given to students to inculcate behavior change. Soap banks established in more than 3,000 schools. Encouraged children to celebrate Global Handwashing Day; 800,000 have participated in such events. In a study, it found that 50% of the school kids were aware of the benefits of hand-wash. In seasons, when the chances of communicable diseases are high, ADRA India has organized hand-washing camps at public places such as markets, temples, hospitals and parks. Until now, more than 200 camps were held.
Tinni Sawhney, CEO, Aga Khan Foundation, India