By Yasmine Saker
Lattakia/ Tartous- Every child in Syria has the right to a healthy physical learning environment. To make this a reality to over 65,000 children in Tartous and Lattakia, UNICEF in partnership with the UK AID is supporting rehabilitation of toilets, hand washing facilities and water fountains in 80 schools in the two governorates.
According to recent UN estimates, more than 950,000 people, most of them displaced from conflict areas in Aleppo, Idleb, Homs and Rural Damascus currently live in Tartous and Lattakia. The huge influx of displaced children into schools in these areas, combined with the inadequacy of water and sanitation facilities, together with suboptimal hygiene practices, is putting children’s health at risk.
WASH in School improves health and school attendance
Thanks to the partnership between UK AID and UNICEF the WASH in School project in Lattakia and Tartous is safeguarding the well-being of children. The project is providing clean toilets for boys and girls, safe drinking water in school compounds, and hygiene awareness raising to promote good practices. Children also receive soap bars and lice shampoo.
“Clean and child-friendly drinking water and sanitation facilities in schools can lessen the spread of communicable diseases. We have also seen improvement in school attendance when children have access to clean water and sanitation facilities,” said Mazen Issa, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officer with UNICEF. “This project is promoting a healthier and better-educated generation.”
Ghinwa, Bissan and Batoul are grade five students in Abdelkader Ali Zaibak Primary School in Lattakia, one of the schools supported by the UNICEF/UK Aid partnership.
“Last year, we had to stay all day without drinking water because we did not want to use the dirty toilets,” said Ghinwa.
“Now the toilets are very clean, we don’t have to buy bottled water from outside because we have clean water in school and we each got a bar of soap to wash our hands!” Ghinwa’s best friends Bissan and Batoul added.
In addition to fixing toilets and hand washing facilities, the project is supporting rehabilitation of classroom with installing new doors, windows and white boards, and repainting the walls.
‘Agents of change’
“When you protect children’s health and provide them with clean toilets, safe drinking water, comfortable desks and proper white boards, you are providing them with an enabling environment to continue their learning.” explains Madhav Pahari, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist with UNICEF field office in Tartous. “WASH in school is an important pre-requisite to ensure the right to basic education.”
Sixth graders Mudar and his friend Zain were most excited about the blue bars of soap they received.
“I took my mother’s sunglasses box to carry my soap in,” said Zain.
“I use it before and after eating, after using the bathroom and after playing during recess. I asked my mother to buy one for my 5 year old brother to take to kindergarten and I taught him how to properly wash his hands.”
The fact that Zain conveyed the knowledge to his family is one of the notions behind this project.
“We want to turn children into agents of change among their families to promote better overall health and disease prevention,” Issa explained.
Students in schools benefiting from this project receive weekly hygiene awareness raising sessions where they learn topics such as germs, hand washing best-practices, communicable disease prevention and maintenance of school facilities- all in a fun, relatable way.
“What do germs do after you go to the bathroom and forget to wash your hands?” Lama, a volunteer hygiene educator with UNICEF asked sixth graders during a hygiene promotion session.
“They have a party!” everyone screamed.