School Health and Hygiene for Mayan Children

by Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.
Mr.Castro at Totolya School
Mr.Castro at Totolya School

One thing we always strive for in our projects at Pueblo a Pueblo is autonomous, sustainable, community-driven success. As we wrapped up the 2015 school year, we checked in with some of the students and teachers at our partner schools to see how the WASH in Schools Project has been progressing. We’re happy to see them taking charge of the project and spreading their new knowledge!

When we spoke to Ruben Castro, a preschool teacher at the Totolya School, he told us he has seen changes in himself, his students, and his community. After participating in trainings and workshops about the importance of WASH, he told us that his outlook has changed. He now feels more personal responsibility for caring for his school and community:

“I have been a part of the process, and I look out for the kids. [...] Now it is my responsibility to be vigilant. [...] I have found a new interest in personal hygiene and for keeping spaces clean. [...] Now I can say that a WASH representative doesn’t necessarily have to come. It’s enough that I am here to instill values about hygiene in the kids. I will be calling their attention when they don’t keep a space clean.”

Mr. Castro has taken charge of making sure the lessons imparted at the Totolya School about WASH are carried out. He hopes that his students will keep practicing good hygiene habits, and tells us he has already seen positive results! Many times, he has seen students encouraging WASH habits with their peers and their family members:

“I’ve observed that my own students are calling each other’s attention about picking up trash, and the importance of using soap. And they don’t just practice those habits at school--but also in their homes. I have a few nieces in our school, and my sisters tell me that the girls always ask for soap to wash their hands. They take care of themselves, they brush their hair, they brush their teeth--and those changes are really significant.”

After speaking to Mr. Castro, we made our way to the Nueva Vida School, where we installed WASH facilities and began trainings just this past summer. Loida, a 5th-grader at Nueva Vida, told us the lessons she has learned have already made a big difference in her life.

I am healthier now because I practice good hygiene in school and at home. [...] Now I brush my teeth and wash my hands with soap because at school there is soap. Now I use toilet paper since we have rolls of toilet paper at school.”

Loida told us she has already seen a difference in her own life, and thinks it is important to share her new knowledge with her classmates and encourage them to keep practicing good hygiene and sanitation:

“We have to teach others to be hygienic too because they can also get sick from bacteria. [...] What they have taught me, I have taught to others. And because of that I am proud of myself, because I am helping my classmates and showing them the right way to wash their hands.”

In addition to encouraging her peers, Loida has also brought the lessons she has learned home with her:

“I also talked to my parents a little bit about hygiene because they have to be hygienic too, and practice good hygiene at home. [...] I have seen changes with my family members: my aunts, my uncles, my siblings. They have practiced good hygiene because I told them they could get sick, and that’s why they should always wash our food. Now they are healthier because [...] I always tell them about hygiene and help them in all that I can.

We are excited by the success stories of Mr. Castro and Loida--and look forward to more WASH successes in 2016!

Loida on the road to Nueva Vida School
Loida on the road to Nueva Vida School
Nueva Vida kids raise awareness in the community
Nueva Vida kids raise awareness in the community
Nueva Vida teachers learn about WASH
Nueva Vida teachers learn about WASH
Students spreading environmental awareness!
Students spreading environmental awareness!

This August, Pueblo a Pueblo’s WASH in Schools Project inaugurated sanitation facilities at the Nueva Vida Official School, one of our new partner schools.  We installed five student toilets, one urinal and a small hand washing station with four faucets—making for many happy kids and teachers!

WASH Project Coordinator, Tomás, asserts that “the new facilities will contribute to the betterment of the children’s health because they will no longer be exposed to contagious diseases due to unsanitary conditions.”

To help support the school with the ongoing management of these facilities, students who demonstrated strong leadership skills were selected to be WASH Student Ambassadors. As Ambassadors, they help educate their fellow students about the importance of hygiene and sanitation. In early September, the WASH Student Ambassadors demonstrated their commitment by organizing and leading an Environmental Cleanup Awareness Walk in Nueva Vida. It was a successful community-wide event with hundreds of youth, parents, and teachers participating!

The WASH project in Nueva Vida has also helped coordinate the creation of a support group made up of the school principal, teachers, parents, volunteers and a designated WASH Student Ambassador to ensure a community-driven effort is in place to take on any immediate or future challenges.

Tomás emphasized the importance of the school community’s direct involvement in managing the project. Looking forward, he envisions that 100% of students in the school will use the new facilities and learn the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene.

“Pueblo a Pueblo has now executed all the needed steps. We will do occasional follow-ups, but now we want the teachers, students and community to become the main actors to look out for the hygiene of the students at the school. […] With the appropriate use of the new facilities and the direct support from the students and teachers, this will be another means of improving students’ academic success.”

The old hand-washing station, before construction
The old hand-washing station, before construction
The new completed WASH facilities!
The new completed WASH facilities!
New WASH Student Ambassadors at the inauguration
New WASH Student Ambassadors at the inauguration
The school principal opening up the new facilities
The school principal opening up the new facilities

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.

Students in Panimaquip
Students in Panimaquip

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.        

New WASH facilities in the Panimaquip School
New WASH facilities in the Panimaquip School
Students washing their hands
Students washing their hands
New bathrooms
New bathrooms
Pap and Baobab in Tzanchaj for Day of Handwashing
Pap and Baobab in Tzanchaj for Day of Handwashing

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.   

Children with new Baobab soap in Tzanchaj
Children with new Baobab soap in Tzanchaj
Taken on Int
Taken on Int'l Handwashing Day with PaP and Baobab

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Organization Information

Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.

Location: Neenah, WI - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.puebloapueblo.org
Project Leader:
Andrew Wilson
Executive Director
Cabin John, MD Guatemala