Global Handwashing Day and Children for Health

It’s Global Handwashing Day! How can children take part?

From the Global Handwashing Day website Ghd_logo_small

“Handwashing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrhoeal and acute respiratory infections, which take the lives of millions of children in developing countries every year. Together, they are responsible for the majority of all child deaths. Yet, despite its lifesaving potential, handwashing with soap is seldom practised and difficult to promote.

Turning handwashing with soap before eating and after using the toilet into an ingrained habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhoea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter. A vast change in handwashing behaviour is critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.

Global Handwashing Day focuses on children because not only do they suffer disproportionately from diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases and deaths, but research shows that children – the segment of society so often the most energetic, enthusiastic, and open to new ideas – can also be powerful agents for changing behaviours like handwashing with soap in their communities.”

Handwashing and Children’s participation

Many people and many children are taught about hand washing. Many of us have visited many schools in numerous developing countries and listened to many renditions of the song,

This is the way we wash our hands!

Wash our hands! Wash our hands!

However when you start to talk to the children about putting this ‘message’ into practice you unearth lots of complexities to do with their environment, the habits of their families the cultural norms, the availability of soap and water, the confusion over the effectiveness of hand washing after toilet and before eating etc. It is a simple message and a complex issue.

A Tippy Tap is something children can make and maintain

A Tippy Tap is something children can make and maintain

Our work is all about working with children using a participatory process, which addresses this complexity. As part of that process, we  mobilise the children to research the issue as it is for them in their own lives, we identify what is working (if anything is!)  And then WITH THE CHILDREN, we work out a strategy to grow what works or address the barriers to the behaviour change that we want and need. In our experience it’s only when we do this that we can start to get close to transforming behaviour. The children can be a powerful part of that transformative process (just imagine if you do this right each classroom represents an army of health activists in their family and community!) but it doesn’t work simply by telling them to do x or y. You have to do it in the right way and mobilise the children.

A useful diagnostic tool we apply to looking at complex health education issues like hand washing is to look at 4 aspects of the intervention:

  1. Does the target group have the KNOWLEDGE?
  2. Does the target groups have the SKILLS to act on the knowledge?
  3. Does that target group have the MOTIVATION to apply the knowledge and skills? and
  4. Does the ENVIRONMENT in which the target group lives, enable or hinder the application of the knowledge and skills even when motivated to do so?

When something like the message about hand washing is not working then the reasons can usually be traced back to one of these four aspects or a combination.

Many people reading this will already be getting children actively involved in Hand washing and in a real and sustainable way. Please contact us with your stories about how this is happening – we would love to celebrate your successes and share these stories to inspire others.

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