Global Handwashing Day in Laos
Washing hands is a privilege that should be accessible for everyone. But not everywhere is it normal to wash your hands with soap or even at all. To counteract this hygienic problem the Global Handwashing Day (GHD) was created. The first time it was celebrated was in 2008. Since then it has been an annual reason for big festivities on the 15th of October and this is celebrated by more than 200.000.000 people in over 100 countries.
The campaign was founded by different national and international oganizations, like UNICEF, Unilever, the World Bank Water & Sanitation Program, and the United States Agency for International Development, in order to raise awareness about hand hygiene and the fact that a simple action like washing hands with soap can decrease diseases and even child mortality.
Global Handwashing Day is designed to
- foster and support a global and local culture of handwashing with soap,
- shine a spotlight on the state of handwashing around the world,
- raise awareness about the benefits of handwashing with soap.
Especially in Laos, it is of great importance to turn this into a daily habit as sticky rice is the staple food, which is eaten with hands, as are many other dishes. Many schools in Laos are already joining the campaign and celebrate Global Handwashing Day once a year. The first school in Naxaythong District to join was Ban Sikeud Primary School, supported by AfC. 16 different schools followed its example.
Celebrations in Ban Sikeud Primary School
On October the 13th, 2017, all headmasters of the schools in Naxaythong district were invited to Ban Sikeud to celebrate the event. We, the volunteers of Team V, followed Madame Engel’s invitation and also joined the festivities. Already the day before, a pavilion in the schoolyard was set up and many pupils practised for their performances during Activity Time and in their free time in school. With drinks and sweet snacks the guests’ well-being was to be taken care of.
There were cameras everywhere as about four photographers and also the Lao National Television came. The beginning of the festivities was planned for 8 a.m., but in the end we started at 9 a.m. as the special guests took their time to arrive. One by on
e, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Sports, Madame Kanthaly Silipoungpang , the district Minister of Education, Mr Keo Sanvilay, and our new German Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Jens Lütkenherm, arrived. While waiting for them, the pupils already presented some of their dancing and hula hoop choreographies. After sitting there waiting for over one hour, due to the oppressive heat under the pavilion some of the secondary school teachers were asked to bring huge fans to cool us off. Installing the fans took some time and distracted us from the performance – however, with the cool air it was much more pleasurable afterwards. When finally everything was set up and everyone had arrived safely, the distinguished guests started their speeches about the importance of Global Handwashing Day. As the speeches of the ministers were in Lao, we could not understand much, but even for us it was clear how mind changing this day was for the schools in Laos.
Next the German Ambassador took his place at the front and started his oration in English. The microphone was adjusted too low by this time (it had been set too high for the first two speeches) and because of the brevity of the speech it was not possible to set it higher. Nevertheless we understood the main points of his speech. He sees handwashing as a benefit for everyone and is happy to join this special day. He knows that the project is only possible with the support of many people and institutions like Child Fund Laos, the German Cooperation GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), and the Ministry of Education and Sport in Laos. Giving access to sanitation is important, and water, health, and education are intensively linked. He ended his speech with this message about enhancing people’s awareness of the subject: “Let’s all work together to make every day a Global Handwashing Day.”
Washing hands and brushing teeth
After the speeches all the headmasters and Madame Engel were asked to come to the front in small groups to be given certificates. This was accompanied by the sounds of cameras clicking as suddenly all photographers jumped to the front and took pictures. When every headmaster received a golden frame with an important sheet of paper in it, everyone suddenly stood up. The pupils of Ban Sikeud Primary School lined up and in rows of two they went from their classrooms to the water pipes, which are installed in the school yard. They washed their hands with water and soap and also brushed their teeth like they do every day in school. As this ritual happens every morning at 10 o’clock during break time, the children are already used to it and have a certain routine, but this time it was different. The Ministers, the Ambassador, and all other guests stood by and watched, and the photographers as well as the Lao teachers took pictures of them as if they were popular celebrities. The situation was intent because the schoolyard was full of people chatting and taking pictures and walking around. There was even a drone flying above the whole action to record it.
Global Handwashing Day (GHD) sponsored a very long banner with this year’s motto “Our hands, our future”, on which everyone could place a coloured handprint. As everyone dipped their hands into liquid paint in orange, blue, and green, they had to wash their hands afterwards as a symbolic gesture for Global Handwashing Day.
The festivities were closed with a play by the pupils. The play was in Lao but from the acting we understood that it was about washing hands before meals. In the end, a man from Child Fund Laos came to the front and all children were given little presents like candy, drinks, soap, and toothbrushes. Music was played and they all danced together.
Text by V. Golla and L. Malchow
Photos by V. Golla