In our last report, we told you how we’re engaging community stakeholders in our WASH projects through student cohorts composed of older primary school scholars called School WASH Ambassadors. Recently, our project technicians began training these WASH Ambassadors and their teachers in diverse themes centered on healthy living. Such topics include proper waste disposal and recycling, the spread of germs, and general hygiene habits, like washing hands and brushing teeth.
Another session focused on self-esteem and its relation to personal hygiene. Our technicians emphasized that by taking care of yourself – by regularly bathing, brushing your hair, or changing your clothes – students value themselves. In result, they are more likely to pay attention in class, develop personal goals and dreams, have fewer illnesses, and ultimately complete school.
These are important lessons to learn because common health and hygiene habits are not always practiced in the home. Health habits tend to be discussed in schools, and some teachers speak about the importance of hygiene in meetings with parents. However, when asked why hygiene isn’t discussed at a family level, Tomas Mendoza, our WASH Project Manager, responded that “hygiene isn’t as important as eating.”
This is why Pueblo a Pueblo provides the resources and training necessary to create behavioral change. Much of our work is focused on education, however it is just as critical that we are providing WASH infrastructure in the forms of hand-washing stations and bathrooms. We are currently working with the Nueva Vida Primary School to finish the construction on seven new bathrooms, three hand-washing stations, and one urinal.
As a result of the education and infrastructure available to these students, Tomas has noticed that they are more conscious of good health practices and understand how to take care of themselves better. We’re happy to be part of this change and we hope that instilling hygiene habits in local students will lead them to healthy and successful lives.
In March our school health and hygiene projects engaged new community members through the creation of WASH Support Committees and the introduction of our Student Hygiene Brigades.
WASH Support Committees were initiated in the elementary schools of Panimaquip, Totolya, and Tzanchaj. Each committee is represented by the school director, a teacher, a representative from the Student Hygiene Brigade, and three parents from the school. The groups meet regularly to support the schools in finding and implementing solutions to the challenges of maintaining water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure and good health habits.
For example, in the community of Totolya, the WASH Support Committee encourages healthy behavior despite the frequent water shortages that occur in the school. To address these water shortages, parent committee members suggested that each student bring water from home that can be used for hand-washing. Thanks to their input, local families in Totolya are now encouraging new ways to further good hygiene habits.
Our Student Hygiene Brigades also began their monthly meetings in March. These groups of six student representatives from the 4th and 5th grades were established in the schools of Panimaquip and Totolya. The students were chosen because of their interest in WASH classes and serve as role models for healthy behaviors and educate younger students on the benefits of washing hands with soap.
By involving students, parents, and school personnel in decisions regarding sanitation infrastructure and in disseminating hygiene information, we empower community members to champion healthy practices in their communities. As a result, we have more support for community health initiatives and see healthier habits being practiced by students, their families, and throughout rural communities in Guatemala.
In previous reports, we told you about the progress our School Health and Hygiene program has made throughout rural communities in Guatemala. Today we wanted to share a bit more information about one of our collaborators and how we have joined efforts to have a greater impact.
In June 2014, Pueblo a Pueblo began collaborating with Baobab products. Baobab is a social enterprise based in Guatemala City that makes a line of organic soaps and lip balms that are all natural, biodegradable, and free from artificial ingredients. Baobab prides themselves on being environmentally-friendly and demonstrates a strong commitment to social responsibility through their Manos Felices, or Happy Hands, program.
By providing soap and promoting hygiene awareness to Guatemalan students, Baobab’s goal with their Manos Felices program is to decrease the rate of childhood disease, increase school attendance, and enhance the lives of children, their families and communities. Reaching this goal is made possible by combining resources with Pueblo a Pueblo. Alejandro Torun, founder of Baobab, states “our Manos Felices program is focused mainly on supplying soap to participating schools in Guatemala, but by working together with Pueblo a Pueblo we found a perfect match, since they not only have a WASH [Water, Sanitation and Hygiene] education and evaluation program, but also build sanitation and handwashing infrastructure at the schools.”
Bounded by the same goal, Pueblo a Pueblo and Baobab started collaborating in Tzanchaj and Nueva Providencia. Like many rural, indigenous communities, Tzanchaj and Nueva Providencia face obstacles to good health. Sanitation facilities are limited and soap is expensive. However, by working together, our WASH project and Baobab have closed both gaps. Pueblo a Pueblo remodeled nine bathrooms and built five more, along with six new hand-washing stations, while Baobab contributed hand soap supplies.
At the end of the year we were astounded to find out that the amount of students using soap when washing their hands in Tzanchaj and Nueva Providencia went from 0% to 100%, in the months after Pueblo a Pueblo and Baobab provided their support!
Thanks to your contributions and our collaborations with companies like Baobab, we are proud to bring the health and sanitation resources needed ensure good health to rural communities.
In our last report from August, we told you how your donations made it possible to bring new WASH facilities to three different schools in the past year, increasing our outreach to 785 students. We want to share with you what that means in terms of impact.
Recently we sat down with teachers at the Tzanchaj Primary School, one of our WASH beneficiary schools, to talk about their hygiene and sanitation facilities. They told us that since the start of the project they have seen an increase in student attendance and a decrease in child illness, especially in the prevalence of fevers and diarrhea. Additionally, the WASH activities have improved children’s overall hygiene habits and enhanced their self-esteem.
The teachers shared a story with us about a student named Paulo. Paulo, like the majority of students in Tzanchaj, comes from a poor family that doesn’t have the money to buy basic personal hygiene supplies like soap. Although his parents want him to be healthy, Paulo would come to school every day with dirty hands and fingernails.
However, due to WASH activities in school, Paulo has transformed into a model student for hand washing. He properly washes his hands with soap and water and never needs to be prompted by his teachers to wash his hands before eating and after using the bathroom. Instead, Paulo comes to school every day and shows off his hands, exhibiting their cleanliness and his higher self-confidence.
Paulo isn’t the only student with an inspirational story. Many of the students share what they’ve learned in school with their parents and siblings, thereby creating healthier families and stronger communities. Gaspar Damian Reanda, a teacher at the Tzanchaj Primary School, has had a front row seat to the change. “This project is very important,” he told us. “We, as teachers and as a school, are very grateful to see our students taking better care of themselves.”
These past six months have been some of the most productive in our Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Project’s history.
In February we brought WASH facilities to over 80 students and teachers in the Nueva Providencia Elementary School; in May we installed biosand filters in two schools to provide 375 students with clean water; and now, this past month, we inaugurated hand-washing stations and child-friendly, gender-segregated bathrooms in the Totolya and Panimaquip Elementary schools, reaching an additional 330 students.
As always, there’s a lot left to be done: countless students, schools, and communities without access to the basic facilities and information that are so important in preventing sickness and malnutrition.
But for now we’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who have helped make our work over the past six months possible.
Sometimes your support might feel small, even insignificant in light of the enormity of the problems these children in this region face.
We can tell you that it’s not. Because you’ve decided to help us, 785 students are growing up stronger, healthier, and happier than before. That’s not small; that’s not insignificant.
Thank you so much for your support and best wishes for a safe and joyful summer.
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