Pakistan: Global Handwashing Day
Earlier this month, Caroline Gluck, Oxfam's Humanitarian Press Officer, visited the Bela Koroona School in Pir Piai, Nowshera district, KPK, Pakistan. Here she reports on but one of the many activities that Oxfam organized in schools across Pakistan, to celebrate Global Handwashing Day.
Barely a month since Bela Koroona School in north west Pakistan was submerged by the floods, the children are back in the classrooms and are preparing for Global Handwashing Day.
Head teacher Major Shah shows me the ruined school records and books black with mildew.
He said, “Everything was destroyed. The whole building was submerged. It took a week for the waters to go down. All the records were destroyed, mats, books, electrical things. After the floods, it was stinking here. We had to restart classes in a displaced people’s camp. It was challenging. 14 days later we shifted back.”
Friday 15th October and 190 pupils are clutching posters and listening intently to the first Global Handwashing Day session. The floods affected all of the children here and some are still living in camps while their houses are being rebuilt. The camps are breeding grounds for disease - so with families expected to stay in camps for longer it’s vital that good hygiene practices are adopted and the threat of diseases minimalized.
Major Shah added, “People have a lot of skin diseases and eye infections; there are also a lot of problems with diarrhea. This event – global handwashing day – is important. If people don’t wash their hands properly, children will be prone to different kinds of diseases. We hope our children will learn properly so they can be safe from disease and stomach problems.
I can feel that the children are filled with energy and excitement about the day’s events. There are talks, demonstrations, and games so that the children enjoy learning not only about the importance of hand washing but also how to do it properly.
Sana Gul is 11 years old and stood up in front of the whole school to show the five steps of hand washing. She told me, “If you don’t wash hour hands they will be dirty and you can get stomach problems, fevers and coughs.
Sana is quite right - hand washing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal and acute respiratory infections. It’s shocking to think that together, they are responsible for the majority of all child deaths.
Turning handwashing with soap into an ingrained habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.
And children are key to make sure that the messages really do hit home.
Sana tells me that she’s confident that she’ll be able teach her family as well. “I will tell my parents what I’ve learned…how to wash hands properly. I think they will listen to me. They will also learn to wash their hands properly so they won’t carry germs and we will be protected from illnesses.”
Oxfam organized many activities in schools across Pakistan to mark Global Handwashing Day (October 15). These activities are part of Oxfam's flood response work in Pakistan on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, where we are reaching over a million people and continue to support communities as they recover from the worst floods in the country's history.
Initiated in 2008 by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, Global Handwashing Day is endorsed by a wide array of governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, NGOs, private companies and individuals around the globe.
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