By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
“Soap and water, scrub, scrub, scrub,” hums Sashini as she washes her hands.
Like many of her friends, the 11-year-old did not bother too much with washing her hands properly before. Sometimes she and her friends would come home after playing outside or helping with paddy cultivation and wash their hands a little with water to get the mud and dust off. But now things have changed with a program organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka to promote proper hand washing, especially before meals.
Sashini was among 90 children age 6 to 14 who participated in the hand-washing program conducted at Mayurapada Kanishta Vidyalaya, a school in the Polonnaruwa district in north central Sri Lanka.
“We teach children about the importance of washing their hands, especially before meals,” says K.M. Chandralatha, a teacher. “But it happens within the classroom. This program was a practical experience in correct hand washing, and I think many of them got first-hand experience on the proper way to do it.”
Access to clean water is crucial for hand washing and other good hygienic practices.
The program commenced with an introduction to hand-washing day, followed by a practical demonstration by a science teacher, illustrating how harmful bacteria can be neutralized with the use of soap and water.
A midwife who works in public health taught the children good hand-washing techniques. “We talk regularly with parents on this subject, but we rarely get an opportunity to talk to children about the importance of hand washing,” says H.M. Chamali Piyaratne, the midwife. “It was a good experience, and I look forward to doing more sessions with children.”
Sashini adds that the program has helped many of her friends, who have in turn taught their younger siblings about proper hand-washing techniques.
“We were never taught to wash our hands like this before,” she says. “The experience of doing it with clear instructions has taught us how important it is.”
To further assist and promote hand washing and good hygiene among children, ChildFund Sri Lanka also provided two sinks to Sashini’s school.
Reporting by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste has some of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in the world. More than 5 percent of Timorese children die before their fifth birthday, in comparison to 0.4 percent and 0.8 percent of children in Australia and the U.S., respectively, according to UNICEF reports.
Through health, water and sanitation projects, ChildFund is working to save children’s lives by increasing community knowledge about the prevention and treatment of common diseases.
Last week, the Ministry of Health in Timor-Leste organized a national conference on non-communicable diseases. ChildFund was one of the conference exhibitors, setting up an educational booth about our community health programs in Timor-Leste. Staff members provided antibacterial soap, health information and hand-washing advice to conference attendees and passersby, including university students, local children, academics and dignitaries.
The exhibit caught the attention of Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who spent 10 minutes at ChildFund’s booth, demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques with ChildFund Timor-Leste staff.
Hosted by the Ministry of Health, ChildFund Timor-Leste, Church World Service and the World Health Organization, the conference, held in the capital city of Dili, sought to improve collaboration and strategic planning between government and NGOs in the health sector.
“People who are poor or who live in underserved communities have less access to medical care and good nutrition,” said Dr. Nelson Martins, Timor-Leste Health Minister. “They face greater environmental health hazards and are harder to reach through outreach and education efforts. So as we move forward, we understand that we must also address the social and economic factors that can put people at greater risk for chronic disease.”
Martins also visited the ChildFund booth, asking numerous questions about ChildFund Timor-Leste’s health projects in rural communities.
Throughout the conference, ChildFund staff engaged young people at the event, with competitions to test their hand-washing and fingernail-cutting techniques. In partnership with the Alola Foundation, ChildFund also ran a trivia quiz about nutrition and maternal health. Nearly 250 conference-goers participated in these fun and educational activities. Prizes included practical items like towels, nail cutters and T-shirts.