COVID Leadership: Improving handwashing capacity in PNG schools

Tuesday, October 12, 2021
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Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) alumni, Marlene Delis and Rebecca Krai, and Australia Awards alumni, Charles Sorom, are working together to increase access to handwashing in two Papua New Guinean elementary schools.

By improving the schools’ handwashing facilities and access to soap, the team’s Hands Up for Hygiene project aims to address the major barriers to elementary school students forming healthy handwashing habits.  

Project Lead, Marlene says, “I believe that teaching children about hygiene and taking part in personal hygiene practices, such as washing of hands with soap and water, at a very young age is critical in mitigating the risk of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases they will be exposed to in the future.”

Soap and age-appropriate facilities vital for handwashing habits

While frequent handwashing with soap and water is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent communicable transmission, a Knowledge, Attitudes and Perceptions (KAPS) survey carried out in five schools in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu in 2015 found that many schools lacked access to both soap and appropriate handwashing facilities.

The survey findings highlighted that well-functioning and size-appropriate handwashing facilities were needed to promote long-term handwashing behaviours in children.

[Pictured: Kimbe team pose for a photo with the WASH hygiene resources]

What Hands Up for Hygiene delivers

To bridge these gaps in Kimbe, West New Britain Province, Marlene, Rebecca and Charles are working with teachers of Saraklok 2 and 3 elementary schools and the Education Coordinator for Mosa Inspectorate Schools to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and soap access.

Delivered as part of WLI’s Leadership for COVID-19 Response and Recovery initiative, this involves the alumni team collaborating with teachers to build a new age-appropriate, well-functioning outdoor handwashing facility in each of the two elementary schools.

Accessible handwashing information and demonstrations are being provided to students in person and at handwashing stations.

This includes highly visual and engaging paintings that help to promote washing with soap as one of the best defenses against COVID-19 at each of the facilities.

Teachers are also being trained to make their own soap for continuous supply at each school.

[Pictured: Seated from left to right: Ivonne Konz (TIC), Anna Jamek (TIC), Benson Nahia and four construction workers, 23 July 2021]

Observing Global Handwashing Day

As the project nears completion and the schools’ capacity for handwashing is improving, the WLI alumni team will join over 700 of the schools’ students, parents and teachers to observe Global Handwashing Day.

“We are happy that 15 October will further increase children’s participation in the handwashing demonstrations,” Marlene says.

“About 700 students, parents and teachers will be observing the Global Handwashing Day.”

The Hands Up for Hygiene project will officially launch between November and December 2021.

Learn more about WLI Leadership for COVID-19 Response and Recovery