Chantal, outside the Kagano Primary School where the Hand Washing club meets weekly in Bugesera, Rwanda
Photography by Terence Babb
By Adriana Ermter
"It wasn't easy to learn how to wash my hands," says Chantal. "I've never done this before."
Chantal lives in a small, rural village in Rwanda's Bugesera district. The village has no electricity and like over 40 per cent of the global population, has limited access to clean water. Communal wells, pumps and/or tanks are located throughout Bugesera, however and are where the community sources its clean water.
Collecting this water is hard work: the wait lines can be long; the water is heavy to carry; and the walk back home can often take hours. Chantal fetches her family's water every morning before she goes to school. Fortunately, the 14-year-old girl attends one of the Bugesera's Right To Play partnership schools, where new water tanks have been placed and are filled with fresh, clean water regularly. She has complete access to this water, as well as to the school's Right To Play Hand Washing club where she is a member and has gained life-saving knowledge about hygiene and communicable diseases. And as a result, hand washing has become a recent and new practice.
"I learned how to wash my hands at the Hand Washing club at my school and it's really fun," affirms Chantal. "There are 33 of us and we meet every Friday at three o'clock outside the school. Our Coach teaches us hand-washing games to play and we sing songs and make little plays about how to wash our hands that we show our friends and our parents."
Learning about diseases, their symptoms and prevention, such as washing hands with clean soap and water is key as nearly 1,000 children around the world die due to preventable water- and sanitation-related diseases like diarrhea and dysentery, each day. Our Coach-led game and play-based activities provide Chantal and her peers with preventive information, while the club's interactive discussions empower the children to identify the steps they need to take at school and at home to stay healthy.
"Before I joined the club, I didn't know I should wash my hands after I use the toilet or that I should wash them before I would eat," says Chantal. "I had to practice this a lot, because I would forget to do it. It took a long time for me to remember. I'm used to it now and washing my hands is just a part of my life."
Advocating for cleanliness and hygiene have also become a part of Chantal's daily routine. She and the other Hand Washing club's children share their knowledge with their siblings and parents, teaching hygienic practices and implementing new routines, like hand washing after playing outside, and using the bathroom and before cooking and eating
Chantal has also taught her family how to create a hand-washing device made from a large plastic water bottle that allows them to wash their hands with soap and clean water. The integration and implementation of these individual hand-washing stations is helping reduce the spread of disease in her community.
"My family uses ours all the time and we're not sick anymore," affirms Chantal, who says her family used to suffer from diarrhea, cholera and dysentery, as well as skin rashes. "When I would get sick, I would have a fever and my stomach hurt. I felt awful and I couldn't always get better right away. I couldn't go to school and this made me feel sad. A lot of my friends had the same problem."
Through community theatre and word of mouth, Chantal and her friends are increasing awareness about cleanliness and hygiene and it is making a positive impact of the community's overall health. "When I see someone who is going to eat after they have used the toilet without washing their hands, I run up to them and teach them how to do it," says Chantal. "They like it when I do this and they thank me. They respect me too, because they can see that this is something positive and it will change the community. I'm only 14 years old, but I'm helping prevent diseases. Maybe one day I can be a doctor."
In 2015, Right To Play launched the Play for the Advancement of Quality Education (PAQE) program with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Active in eight countries, PAQE uses Right To Play's play-based approach to learning and development which focuses on a quality education to build teacher capacity and remove barriers to education to improve learning outcomes for children.