With the roll call finished, the students quickly form up behind Ms. Nang and the class goes outside for their scheduled morning hand washing activity.
Ms. Nang’s class is particularly special because it is the only pre-primary class in a school mainly for primary students. Her classroom consists entirely of students from ethnic groups, some of whom speak a very limited amount of Lao language.
“Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to communicate with some of my students in class because of the language barrier,” says Ms. Nang
“However, when it comes to hygiene activities like hand washing and tooth brushing that we regularly do in our class, they have no problems following the steps since they are keen observers. I only have to show them the steps a few times and then they can do the rest by themselves.”
A few years ago, these hygiene activities would have been much more difficult to organise.
Back then, the school’s only two available toilets were damaged and eventually became unusable, leaving the school children without access to proper sanitation facilities.
"I remember having to manually pump water from the borehole and carry it over myself to our class for my students to use. Sometimes the older kids helped out too."
The situation changed when UNICEF stepped in to address these issues under its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in schools program intervention. As part of this program, UNICEF has supported this school with essential WASH facilities, including a water tank with pipe fittings, hand washing facilities and toilet facilities.
Apart from the facilities provided, the program intervention package also includes a training component for teachers aimed at enhancing their capacity in raising awareness about proper hygiene and sanitation for young Laos children in schools.
The training includes topics such as how to maintain personal hygiene, how to use sanitation facilities and how to maintain a healthy and clean school environment.
This component is particularly important as some students, particularly those from rural areas, are still not familiar with the use of toilets.
"Some of my students come from rural communities where open defecation was previously practiced. Because of this, some of them are still unfamiliar with the use of toilets and refuse to use the toilet if I am not there with them."
Mobility restrictions caused by the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and floods caused by heavy rains in 2020 caused a delay in the rollout of the training component of the WASH in schools program.
However, Ms. Nang remained committed to her student’s health and wellbeing. While awaiting the arrival of the trainers, Ms. Nang implemented some hygiene awareness activities for her class, including the hand washing and toothbrushing activity that she regularly does with her students, using the facilities that UNICEF has provided and consulting the manual on WASH in schools.
"I feel very happy about our new sanitation facilities since I believe that they will greatly help my students learn good hygiene habits that will benefit them, not just at school but at home as well."
The rollout of the training component of UNICEF’s WASH in schools intervention in Savannakhet was completed in January 2021.
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This article was originally posted in UNICEF Laos website.
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