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Promoting Hygiene Practices in Schools Gives Children a Healthy Start in Life

A group of people sitting around a table with a model of houses

Students in Al-Dhale’e built a prototype of their ideal clean and climate-friendly city. Photo: Bassam Saleh/ CARE.

Students in Al-Dhale’e built a prototype of their ideal clean and climate-friendly city. Photo: Bassam Saleh/ CARE.

Access to schools during conflict gives children a sense of normalcy and promotes resilience and recovery. At school, students learn, develop skills, and reach their full potential. Beyond education, schools also play a critical role in fostering social development and maintaining children’s mental and physical health. Children can adopt healthy behavior to sustain lifelong well-being through interaction with peers and adults outside the family cycle, such as teachers.

The protracted conflict in Yemen is affecting the future of entire generations of children. With the conflict entering its eighth year, access to schools is further exacerbated by economic decline, natural disasters, and displacement. More than 2,700 schools across Yemen have been destroyed, partially damaged, or utilized for non-educational purposes. And over 2.2 million school-aged Yemeni girls and boys are out of school. An estimated 5.9 million school students aren’t receiving a quality education and are forced to cope with overcrowded classrooms and overburdened teachers.

Mariam Ali teaches in a girls’ school in Al-Dhale’e Governorate, southern Yemen. “Many areas of our governorate suffer from poor sanitation infrastructure, a root factor for epidemic outbreaks,” she says. “Residents dump wastewater directly into swamps. The swamp in front of my house smells terrible, and I always worry about my children getting sick.”

Mariam Ali is a primary school teacher from Al-Dhale’e Governorate, southern Yemen. Photo: Bassam Saleh/ CARE.

“Polluted surroundings are not the only danger to children’s health,” says Mariam. “Sometimes, children’s hygiene behavior can be a risk factor, exposing them to preventable hazards and diseases. When children receive the proper education and access to essential hygiene resources, their behaviors and habits can completely shift for the better, preserving their health for a life course. For instance, some of my students come from communities that practice open defecation. Although we have latrines at schools, they aren’t used to using them and often refuse to use the restroom if I’m not with them.”

Good hygiene habits are essential for children to live healthy and productive lives. Poor hygiene practices in schools can lead to a wide range of health problems, such as the spread of infectious diseases and malnutrition. Good hygiene practices such as regular handwashing, wearing appropriate clothing, and keeping school facilities clean can help prevent the spreading of germs and bacteria. This, in turn, reduces the risk of infections and diseases, including colds, flu, and diarrhea, which can disrupt schooling for children.

To give children a healthy start in life, CARE works together to promote good hygiene practices in schools and surrounding communities. Through the Integrated Emergency Assistance for Internally Displaced People and Host Communities project, CARE supported schools in Al-Dhale’e Governorate with essential hygiene items, awareness sessions, and recreational activities to promote hygiene among students. The intervention aimed at empowering teachers and students to be agents of change in their schools and communities.

As part of the project, outreach activities were held for teachers to educate them about proper hygiene and sanitation for children in schools, including teaching children how to maintain personal hygiene, use sanitation facilities properly, and preserve a healthy and clean school environment.

Mariam was one of the teachers who participated in school activities through which she was trained on classroom management methods and hygiene promotion. “Working with children to spread hygiene awareness is joyful and fulfilling. They usually pick up hygiene practices quickly, and it’s now automatic for them. It’s a habit now for my students to wash their hands first during breaks and before eating.”

Nuha*, 14, plays the role of a doctor in a school theater play. Photo: Bassam Saleh/CARE.

Nuha*, 14 years old, one of Mrs. Mariam’s bright students, aims to be a doctor when she grows up. “I participated in school theater activities that raise awareness around hygiene,” says Nuha. “I was given the role of a doctor, and I felt that this role is what I’m looking for as a profession in the future. I want to alleviate the suffering of patients in my area, especially children.”

In addition to theater activities, hygiene promotion activities in schools involved establishing school hygiene clubs where students and teachers volunteer to encourage hygiene across their schools, homes, and the broader community.

In my school, students lead hygiene activities themselves,” says 13-year-old Manar*. “I work with three other students to teach fellow students step-by-step on how to wash their hands and use the toilet in a healthy way. Our role as members in the school hygiene club is to observe and remind others of the importance of always keeping themselves and their environment clean.”

Mariam is delighted that the children at school have changed their behavior and become changemakers in their homes and communities. “The school has changed dramatically regarding cleanliness and students’ behavior. I’m grateful that we also succeed during house-to-house awareness promotion to encourage some families to send their children to school,” she concludes.

Students color during hygiene promotion reactional activities. Photo: Bassam Saleh/ CARE.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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