The boy, Youssouf Dissa, 10, has come from school with important information to pass on to his family. His task is to convince his grandfather, Adama, that family members must use soap when they wash their hands before eating their evening meal. This is what Youssouf has learned in class at N’tjibougou School and now he and the other students are sharing their knowledge, inadvertently starting a behavioral change process throughout their community.
Showing what he wrote in his book during today’s lesson, Youssouf repeats, “We get dirty from sweat and dust. We must regularly wash with clean water and soap.’’ Head Teacher Marcel Coulibaly explains that all the teachers were recently trained by Save the Children under the Dubai Cares’ initiative, so that now such repetitive messages about hand washing with soap are given daily in class.
Youssouf, says ‘’I’ve learned it’s important to drink clean water to avoid stomach ache and diarrhea,’’ he says, “and that you have to wash with soap every time before and after food and after using the latrine.”
During the evening meal, Adama is the first to lather his hands, using a ball of the green-grey soap made locally from vegetable oil and potash. Family members follow him, pouring water from a kettle to rinse their hands.
Elsewhere among the sun-dried mud brick huts, similar scenarios are enacted, all as a result of parents having been convinced by their children’s arguments. “Now the parents understand,” says Makan Keita, Community Development Agent with Save the Children.
Other hygiene practices are being adopted as a natural progression from the hand washing activity. Youssouf says, “At school we’ve learned to keep our drinking water clean. We’ve got a new pump in the compound and no one is allowed to step near it wearing their shoes. There’s a fine to pay if a boy or girl forgets. Now at the village, we’ve made everyone aware there should be a cover protecting it, and that we must keep our buckets off the ground to avoid dirt contaminating the water.”