Collective and concerted action are important to curb the spread of COVID-19. With a focus on schools, Public Health Officers and Curriculum Support Officers trained under the WASH First programme implemented a sensitisation campaign across four counties in Kenya. In Elgeyo Marakwet County, WASH First trained participants visited over 100 schools to raise awareness and increase access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
High impact of COVID-19 on children
Although children are still considered less susceptible to COVID-19, this does not negate the likelihood that the pandemic may have long-term impacts on their development and futures. After a nine-month school closure due to COVID-19, schools reopened in January 2021; only to close down for another month in March 2021. Without a doubt, the pandemic has disrupted the education of children and familiar learning methods. To date, schools are working hard to get students back to their required educational levels.
Parallel to this, the threat of COVID-19 mutation and spread has not disappeared. This necessitated for WASH First-trained Curriculum Support Officers and Public Health Officers to visit schools and share COVID-19 prevention measures to teaching and non-teaching staff. Rolling out a school sensitisation campaign, the trainers sought to create sanitation and hygiene agents of change.
Chepketeret Primary School has a student population of close to 450, and employs 13 teachers and four non-teaching staff. During the sensitisation session it was discussed that the school would benefit from increasing the number of handwashing stations. Months later, the school's Board of management moved to install an improved handwashing station, with the financial support of the school's alumni.
Alongside facility delivery, children were taught about the importance of good hygiene practice. They were introduced to the ten steps of handwashing practice, and were taught about COVID-19 prevention measures, and some symptoms to watch out for.
Explaining the broader impacts of the sensitisation programme, a teaching staff said,
‘Pupils take the things they learn at school back home. [Children] engage their parents, [who in turn] make sure to play their part. For instance, most parents now ensure that their children wear masks as they come to school.’
Head teacher at Chepketeret primary school stands next to the new handwashing station and shares documentation of the 10 steps for handwashing
A shared responsibility
During the school visits, it was validated that the presence of sanitation and hygiene guidelines and policies was insufficient to embed behaviour change. This is why the sensitisation campaign targeted at schools continue to be very important. Although local government is the duty bearer of sanitation and hygiene, the responsibility for its day-to-day practice is a shared one.
Renewed commitments, broader ambitions
COVID-19 ushered in a renewed commitment to sanitation and hygiene, but also broader ambitions. To illustrate, for far too long, Songeto Primary School, which is located in a remote area in Keiyo North sub county, hardly benefited from development support. Often the school’s needs were overlooked. This is no longer the case. Songeto Primary School benefitted from a visit by the Public Health Officer and his team who took a critical look into the COVID-19 prevention preparedness of the school.
Expressing the school’s gratitude for the visit the head teacher said,
‘Even as the school head teacher, I would not have been able to deliver the messages so clearly and respond to all the questions from the teachers so well as was done by the experts.’
Teachers at Songeto Primary School participate in sensitisation training by Public Health Officer Mr Samson Tanui
 This blog reports on implementation of two of the five behavioural change components being implemented by SNV’s WASH First team. These include, (1) training of healthcare workers including community health volunteers; county education staff, teaching and non-teaching staff; chiefs and sub-chiefs; and civil society network members; (2) sensitisation campaigns through door-to-door household visits, schools, markets, transport hubs and other public places; (3) mass-media awareness campaigns, using local radio networks and social media; (4) improve access to commodities such as soap and disinfection equipment; and (5) improve access to WASH services and facilities, e.g., handwashing stations and toilets.