Children wash hands to curb disease

fortune_drinking_waterHARARE - Teachers are trying their best to encourage students to wash their hands, but I am not sure if they do it at home, said a teacher during a hand-washing awareness event at a primary school in Mabvuku. (Pictured: Six-year-old Fortune recalls that he was not allowed to go and play with his friends, because his mother was worried he

The dirt-poor township in Harare was the epicentre of a devastating cholera outbreak earlier this year. While many students at Mabvuku 1 Primary School heeded their teachers advice, the campaign is far from achieving its goal. David, a fourth-grade student, admitted he hardly ever used soap to wash his hands.

For many of the school’s pupils, hygiene is not a priority.

The public school is located in a poor neighbourhood. To get to school, the children must walk past piles of garbage along a one-meter-wide lane. Most students come from impoverished families and live in simple houses with no running water.

The majority of the parents do not work. The suburb is part of a semi-complete housing development where neither a sewage system nor a fresh water supply was ever properly put in place. Most residents have no potable water or latrines, and some people here answer the call of nature by relieving themselves in the bush because the few available toilets are blocked.

Water at last

Last week, for the first time in two years, water started flowing out of taps in Mabvuku, although this will only be for a few days every week. The city slum presents a picture of total neglect stinking pools of stagnant water, overflowing drains and rotting garbage out in the open.

“Children play in the dirt a lot,” the teacher said. “Today, the practice of washing one’s hands is a huge movement for our school. Hopefully they now know that other people are doing it too. It is more effective when they themselves want to do it, rather than because they are told to.”

On the second annual Global Hand-washing Day on October 15, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) taught the community in Mabvuku how to wash hands with soap as a way to reduce the incidence of disease in Zimbabwe.

There were hand washing demonstrations, a hand washing drama, and a donation of buckets and soap to schools and clinics in Mabvuku and Tafara.

Hand-washing really matters,” commented Patience Ndlovu, Children First head of programmes. Here in Harare we can decrease the incidence of serious diseases like cholera, pneumonia, and diarrhoea by teaching school children to use soap and water at critical times such as before eating and after using the toilet.

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