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‘Raise a Hand for Hygiene’ - Celebrating Global Handwashing Day

Located at the eastern end of Timor-Leste, Lautem is a remote, hot and mountainous district. Government services are stretched here and few NGOs work in area. Plan International celebrated Global Handwashing Day in Lautem by supporting schools to become places where good sanitation is a priority for all students.

On October 15, 2015, two village primary schools celebrated Global Handwashing Day together with their peers around the world under the motto ‘Raise a Hand for Hygiene’. 

Plan International Timor-Leste’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team with their partner non-governmental organization (NGO), Fraterna, and volunteers from Engineers without Borders, organized Global Handwashing Day events at two primary schools in Sika and Soquili villages.

Despite the hot weather, 173 primary school students along with their teachers and parents arrived to sing, watch films, compete in the best “tippy tap” (handwashing station) contest, and pledge to always wash hands with soap at appropriate times.

A student adding her hand print to the Raise a Hand for Hygiene campaign in Aileu District.

Government representatives from the District Water Authority, Department of Public Health, and District Education Office judged the tippy tap competition, quizzed the students and awarded prizes.

“The students learned how to make handwashing facilities out of local materials that use little water,” Izino Correa, one of the facilitators from Fraterna, explained.  

Fernanda, a Sika student said “we must wash our hands with soap before eating.” The event reviewed the steps for handwashing with soap along with the most important handwashing times which include, handwashing after using the toilet, before preparing food and eating, after changing babies’ nappies, and, for kids, after playing.    

 “It is important for our children at school to be teachers at home to promote good hygiene practices,” Mr. Gilberto Cardoso of the Lautem Department of Public Health stressed.    

Students in Lautem show their clean hands after learning how to wash them correctly.

In Soquili, a village off the national electricity grid, Plan International and Fraterna set up movies with their projector and generator to present handwashing videos from different parts of the world. The children were captivated by the animated videos along with a short film about local soapmaking techniques by a successful youth group initially supported by Plan International Timor-Leste.   

Maria Magdalena of Plan International Timor-Leste’s WASH team remarked, “Today showed how NGOs and government can work together to improve the health of Timorese people.  Through the school hygiene clubs (organized by Plan International and Fraterna), the students now understand all of the steps for proper handwashing with soap and why it is important for their health.”

With funding from the European Union, Australian Aid and Plan International, the Plan International Timor-Leste and Fraterna teams are working with the Sika and Soquili communities to improve their village water systems and construct school WASH facilities. The initiative is part of a four year program to improve water and sanitation conditions in 107 villages across Lautem and Aileu Municipalities. 

“For me, the most important part of the day has been to encourage both children and adults to wash their hands with soap at critical times,” says Sabas de Costa, a fellow facilitator from Fraterna.  

Plan International Timor-Leste’s WASH team and local partners, Biahula, FHTL and NTF also celebrated the occasion with students, teachers, government representatives and parents at two schools in Alieu Municipality, about 80 kilometers south of the capital, Dili.

When asked why Global Handwashing Day was important, one student in Soquili asserted, “Because its G-L-O-B-A-L!”

For the students in these remote villages in Timor-Leste, being part of Global Handwashing Day brought them closer to their peers around the globe – and as future (healthy) citizens for the world!