CAIRO: “I am a toothbrush! yells a 10-year old girl role-playing before her classmates in the Upper Egypt village of Farshout. “I protect my teeth from cavities and I keep my breath smelling fresh! “I wash my hands, I wash my face, I wash my head and I wash my body, yells another girl, the image of a yellow bar of soap on the card hanging from her neck. That way I can protect myself from illness.
For children who spend some eight hours in school everyday, there are basic necessities. Some of those requirements are more palpable, such as teachers, books and stationary. A child’s health, however, is just as much an essentiality for academic success as are the tools they use for learning.
Thanks to a new partnership between the Ministry of Education, USAID and UNICEF, more than 300 primary schools in Upper Egypt will benefit from clean water, sanitation and better hygiene education. Over the next three years, the School Sanitation Project will work at primary schools in six districts in the Assiut, Sohag and Qena governorates to develop cleaner, healthier toilet facilities at schools, as well as proper health education. The $2 million agreement (LE 11.5 million) was signed yesterday by Minister of Education Youssri El-Gamal, along with representatives from USAID and UNICEF. “Better hygiene and sanitation is the corner-stone of the healthy life of a child, El-Gamal said following the signing. “With better hygiene enhancers in early childhood, this will influence the health of the child for the rest of their life.
The role-play is one result of the sanitation and hygiene program in primary schools across the Farshout district. Some 14,000 students at 36 schools are benefiting from the program, which ranges from infrastructural repairs to awareness through interaction. According to UNICEF, approximately 97 percent of Egypt’s rural communities have access to improved drinking water facilities, but only 56 percent have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Sanitation development projects such as this specifically push the development of independent water and sanitary drainage authorities, technical assistance to local authorities for the strengthening and maintenance of water supply facilities, as well as improvement of the facilities themselves. The project also focuses on the rehabilitation of facilities within the schools. Water and drainage in many schools are often not functioning or are functioning poorly. The project is therefore geared at improving conditions on the local level in order to ensure the ongoing maintenance of school facilities.
“We are going to do training with the Ministry of Education on the importance of hygiene and how to include hygiene and environmental issues in the curriculum, adds Rania Elessawi, an assistant project officer with UNICEF. “We are going to look at the curriculum and add things that highlight certain issues, and [see] how it impacts the children.
The School Sanitation Project is one of a number of community development projects on which UNICEF, USAID and the Egyptian government are collaborating together. Last year, a five year effort to provide water, sanitation facilities and hygiene education to some 500,000 people in Upper Egypt came to a close. Representatives with UNICEF say they hope this latest venture will build on that incentive. The School Sanitation initiative will also promote awareness through responsibility. Children will often return home to show their mother or siblings what they have learned. By increasing a child’s awareness regarding sanitation, hygiene and environmental issues, project developers are confident that the message will quickly spread around the villages. Officials say some of the funding will be directed to support community activities that will bring safe water, sanitation and better hygiene practices to homes. “Washing their hands, washing their faces, personal hygiene, washing their bodies, washing their hair; these are very basic messages but a lot of the time people don’t focus on it, says Elessawi. “We want to focus on child participation, how they can impact their own house and improve their own house and impact their [families].