Children’s Power Changes a Community: Hygiene Education in Haiti

Even before the country was hit by the major magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12, 2010, some water and hygiene problems had been pointed out in the Republic of Haiti’s schools. The disaster aggravated the situation, rendering school buildings unusable and seriously affecting children’s health. A national census conducted in 2003 had reported that “more than 77 per cent of schools are not provided with safe drinking water” and “60 per cent of them do not have adequate toilets.” Another survey, carried out in 2010, showed that “toilets in 72 per cent of schools are not used properly” and “at 83 per cent of schools children are unable to wash their hands after using the toilet.” All this reveals that, in addition to a shortage of toilets, school children have a low level of hygiene knowledge and behavior.

In collaboration with Haitian Red Cross Society staff, the Japanese Red Cross Society is carrying out support activities to improve public health, the water supply and hygiene in the town of Leogane, near what was the earthquake’s epicenter. In the hygiene project, we are training Red Cross volunteers for local hygiene activities and proactively addressing a program to spread hygiene knowledge in primary schools. The program looks into health and hygiene problems together with children, in a bid to help them acquire proper hygiene habits.

In this issue , Ms. Yoko Fujita, a Japanese Red Cross nurse who has been engaged in support activities in the affected area since August 2011, reports on how things are going with the school children.

Details of Hygiene Education in Primary Schools

Since November 2011, hygiene education has been given to 500 pupils aged between six and 12 in three primary schools in a rural area of Leogane. The tuition covered the following subjects:

- Washing hands using soap
- How to use the toilet and toilet management
- Trash disposal
- Use of safe water to prevent cholera and diarrhea
- Preventive measures against malaria
- Hygiene habits in daily life (clipping nails, brushing teeth, washing hair)

The Red Cross hygiene team devised training methods that took into consideration differences in levels of understanding according to age. For example, in lower grades a puppet show or a parody of a song is used to enable pupils to enjoy learning, while in higher grades pupils form themselves into several groups and discuss the relationships that exist between unsanitary conditions and health problems.

A 10-year-old boy named Kimberley Frasil joined a group activity and expressed his resolve in a poetic style as follows:

“Haiti, Haiti, Haiti, Haiti,
you say Haiti is very beautiful
But what do you say is so beautiful about Haiti?
The streets are full of trash.

Small items of trash you threw away,
small items of trash somebody else threw away
Small items of trash grow bigger, pollute our environment
And threaten our health.

If you wish to stay healthy,
think about hygienic behavior and put it into practice
Don’t throw away trash on the street,
use the toilet, wash your hands with soap
Brush your teeth after meals and
wash your hair properly…

So you can stop any disease from entering your body
However hard it may knock at the door.”

Changes in Children’s Hygiene Knowledge, Attitude and Behavior

Having received hygiene education in primary schools for about seven months, children had a deeper knowledge of hygiene and started to change their attitude and behavior.

In a survey conducted early in June 2012, 78 per cent of children replied, “I use the school’s toilet.” The proportion of those relieving themselves in the school yard or in a river, which was a frequent occurrence before, decreased to 1 per cent. In the case of washing their hands, 83 per cent of children replied, “I always wash my hands after using the toilet,” and more than 90 per cent of them said, “I use soap when washing my hands.” A lot more children (94 per cent) also began to make proper use of trash cans , and an increasing number of them cleaned their schoolyard thoroughly.

On the other hand, some problems remain. A teacher who has been involved with our hygiene team’s activities said, “Children now have a better knowledge of hygiene, but we obtain water to wash our hands by collecting rainwater, as we have no water system in or around our school. We also have to walk for 20 minutes to a hilltop to get safe drinking water.” This clearly shows that long-term support is required in terms of both facilities and human resources .

Changes in Children Spread through Community

The knowledge that the children have acquired and the behavior they have adopted through hygiene education influence their families and those around them. To cite one example, a growing number of children take part in voluntary activities concerning hygiene problems, leading to the large-scale participation in such activities of their parents, brothers, sisters, friends and teachers. People becoming actively involved in tackling hygiene and its related problems serve to enhance Red Cross volunteers’ motivation to work on the project and also result in synergistic effects, such as leading to more proactive community contributions.

One of the Red Cross volunteers said, “It is difficult to improve sanitary conditions in Leogane. But I believe that the environment of the whole region will get better little by little if everybody, irrespective of age or gender, makes efforts to change the way they behave.”

In order to improve sanitary conditions, it is important for people in Haiti to recognize and resolve the problems by themselves. The Red Cross will continue to support them in addressing the problems, focusing on the children who will become the nation’s driving force.