In a recent visit to a local primary school in the Solomon Islands the students demonstrated good understanding of the importance of washing their hands, but expressed frustration that most of the time they can’t wash their hands because there is no secure water supply at their school.
In a peri-urban primary school in Solomon Islands Live & Learn spent time with children discussing safe and unsafe areas in their school and assessing hygiene and sanitation awareness. Live & Learn facilitators spent a full day with the students, working through four different activities. The first activity involved asking the children to recap their current knowledge on hand washing. A student mentioned that they already had information about washing their hands at the school, but their school does not always have water. So they would like access to soap and clean towels to be able to wash their hands.
The second activity had the students brainstorming and discussing proper hand washing technique and the correct steps/techniques to use. The five steps they came up with were: Wet – Soap – Scrub – Rinse – Dry well or shake off water. The children then observed that most people in the school do not practise hand washing, mainly because there is no water available.
During the third activity, the students were shown how to construct their own tippy taps and pressure taps. They enjoyed this activity and thought it was a good idea, but again said that there is the problem of a lack of water available for them to use to wash their hands.
The fourth activity was a mapping activity in which the children were split up into groups of boys and groups of girls. The children agreed that separating girls and boys would allow them to openly express their concerns and feelings within their groups. Each group then drew a detailed map of their school. They identified areas in the school they felt were unsafe, and then coloured these places in red. When they were finished, the children presented the maps to their classmates and discussed their work.
The main areas the children expressed concern about were the:
- Rubbish dump area – students and teachers often throw rubbish (waste food, plastic, paper, tins, bottles, etc.) in this area, making it unsafe and unhealthy. Flies and mosquitoes breed here and can make people sick, and the dangerous objects in this area can hurt people.
- Bush area – it surrounds the school. People use this area as a place for drinking, and drunken people often threaten the girls. There is also open defecation here and in the tall grass on the school playing field.
- Toilets – they are at the far end of the school, close to the bush and the road. There are no locks and sometimes other children spy on the girls. The toilets are very dirty and there is no water; the new ablution block is not being used yet because it has no water. There is open defecation in the bush near the toilets, and most of the school children do not know how to use the toilet properly.
- Water – there is no water for washing hands. There are also no taps or shower rooms. The school has newly built toilets that are closer, but they have no water.
- Road – the school is close to the road, and groups of drunken boys often chase the girls during late hours. There is currently no fence, so the school area is unsafe.
At the end of the session, the students reflected on three things already in place that help them avoid risk in unsafe places, and they came up with three things the school/community could do to increase the students’ safety.
Things that already help to prevent their risk:
- Live & Learn helped build a new ablution block
- Teachers are telling the students about the rules on the school’s boundaries
- Students report to teachers anything they know or have seen that is unsafe
Things that could be done to increase safety:
- Security recruited to be present in/around the school
- Staff and other community members to stay in the school area (have them sleep there during the night)
- Help the school to clean the school area and stop people from drinking and openly defecating there
Through the Western Pacific Sanitation Marketing & Innovation Program, Live & Learn Solomon Islands is working with local schools to assess their sanitation and hygiene challenges, and help the school leadership, teachers and students develop actions to address these challenges. Advocacy by students is an important part of this process.