Water and Sanitation Education Improve Health
By Judith Santiago*
March 23, 2009—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is helping bring better health to children in 31 schools in Aceh Province, Indonesia, through innovative water and sanitation programs. Over the last year approximately 72,550 people have benefited from these efforts.
UMCOR is celebrating World Water Day, March 22, specifically in regards to water and sanitation education, as the work in Indonesia continues to help reinstate affected communities in Banda Aceh and Bireuen and Aceh Besar Districts.
Through UMCOR's WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Project, 31 schools in Aceh Province and Bireuen District General Hospital have improved water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. The institutions have also received practical hygiene training and learned about important waste disposal practices.
One component of the WASH Project is offering creative hygiene trainings that are modifying people's attitudes and behaviors toward better hygiene practices. In return, these educational trainings are improving people's overall health.
School Hygiene Education
Before the 2004 tsunami, the people of Aceh Province were already suffering from poor water and sanitation facilities caused by nearly 30 years of conflict in the region. Most school communities in Bireuen practiced open defecation because of lack of available toilets. Also, several schools were not connected to the Bireuen water supply to afford the opportunity for children to wash their hands.
Without knowledge about proper hygiene, these communities were vulnerable to many infectious diseases. In fact, 1.5 million children worldwide under the age of five die from water-related illnesses.
Through UMCOR's WASH Project, significant health and hygiene education programs were already underway in 31 Banda Aceh, Aceh Besar District and Bireuen District schools. However, it was not enough to generate changes in children's behavior or practices that would lead to more significant or lasting health improvement. A new approach was needed to help the community look at water and sanitation differently.
In collaboration with UNICEF (The United Nations Children's Fund), UMCOR's office in Indonesia empowered children at the schools to be the agents of change in helping to raise awareness about good hygiene. UMCOR health specialists helped train "Hygiene Heroes" for the task. Hygiene Heroes are students responsible for training other students about what they have learned about positive hygiene behavior. So far, 62 UMCOR-trained teachers have in turn trained 726 students to become Hygiene Heroes. This resulted in hygiene promotion events at 440 schools and 154 communities. At the end of each year, all teachers and students who participated in the Hygiene Hero program received a refresher course.
Community Learning Events
UMCOR's Indonesia office supports several community, school and promotional events that communicate positive steps to proper hygiene. The events also allow students and families to practice what they have learned.
In February, one school held a hand washing and teeth brushing event. Other events included speech contests with topics drawn from positive hygiene messages; the cleanest class room competition which involved five schools and a drinking safe water event, among others. UMCOR provided all the necessary materials such as plastic brooms, soap, buckets, towels, and schools supplies in support of each activity.
Medical Waste Disposal
Proper disposal of medical waste was a serious concern for Bireuen District General Hospital. UMCOR took this project on in addition to rehabilitating water systems and sanitation equipment work.
Without safe, medical waste treatment and disposal practices, the hospital was at risk to cause additional harm to patients, visitors and hospital staff. Improper disposal of sharp instruments like syringes and needles can result in injuries or spread disease. UMCOR's health specialists provided an innovative and effective program that resulted in standards that hospital staff, including administrators, doctors, nurses, paramedics and management, could enforce. In addition, the trainings encouraged all staff levels to engage in proper disposal practices. UMCOR provided protective gear for hospital cleaners and distributed bins for the segregation of waste materials for different hospital units. Part of this work included the construction of new laundry and medical waste facilities for the hospital.
UMCOR also worked with the hospital in establishing two hospital committees to address water and sanitation issues. UMCOR staff produced guidelines, standards and training manual materials for use in other hospitals. The training was so effective that Bireuen District General Hospital will now be used as a model for other hospitals in Aceh to upgrade their water, sanitation, hygiene and waste disposal systems.
World Water Day Celebration
In honor of World Water Day, UMCOR's Indonesia office is holding a teachers training to help teachers better influence the hygiene behaviors of students. The aim is to reduce the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015.
At the end of the event, UMCOR will provide the teachers with lesson plans, informational banners and flyers to help them promote good sanitation. In addition, UMCOR will support the trained-teachers by organizing clean-up campaigns in schools while reinforcing the need to preserve the nation's rivers to mark the celebration.
Education through UMCOR's WASH Project continues to be an important factor in helping communities in Aceh Province prosper. Through these innovative programs, more and more people are making a conscious behavioral change toward better hygiene which is protecting their overall health.
How You Can Help
UMCOR's WASH project provides greater access to improved water and sanitation facilities and builds capacity for students, teachers and hospital staff through hygiene and waste disposal education. You can support projects like these by sending your gifts to Indonesia Emergency, UMCOR Advance #217400. To learn more about UMCOR's work in Indonesia, click here.
*Santiago is the Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications.