By James Musyoka, Kenya Connect Co-Founder, Field Director and Director of Operations
While it’s a significant achievement to leverage local innovation to create and install efficient hand-washing stations at schools in rural Kenya, it’s another to keep them all in use. Over the last five years, Kenya Connect has installed hand-washing stations at all of our partner schools: 44 primary and 11 secondary, and at our Learning Resource Center in Wamunyu. Promoting hand washing is one of several efforts to keep students healthy and in school.
The sturdy hand-washing stations are handcrafted by local metal workers in Wamunyu and funded by Kenya Connect donors. Each school also receives a one-month allotment of soap supplies as well as training about effective hand-washing techniques. Kenya Connect volunteers even sing a song, “If You’re Healthy and You Know it, Wash Your Hands!”, to engage the students. Partnering with the Henry the Hand Foundation, Kenya Connect has painted colorful murals on water tanks and stations to encourage students to wash their hands after using the toilet, before preparing food and eating, and after petting animals.’’
As the hand-washing program has progressed, we discovered that a number of stations were not fully operational due to the lack of soap. After conducting extensive research and conferring with local public health professionals, Kenya Connect initiated a sustainable liquid soap project to address this issue. Thanks to a crowdfunding program through Johnson & Johnson’s CaringCrowd platform, 40 of our partner schools have successfully launched a school-based liquid soap-making project, with the remainder expected to come on board in May.
“What a wonderful and inspiring project the soap making initiative is!” says Kithiiana Primary School teacher Catherine. “Kithiiani Primary School is never the same again. Pupils, teachers, and the community at large have become dirt-free. We are using the soap to wash our hands after visiting the latrines, and before eating. We also use the soap to clean classrooms, offices, and even our clothes.”
Justina Pereira, an education officer and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) professional in Kitui County, met with students, teachers, and parents to instruct them on why and how to make liquid soap. Over the course of four days, school communities were trained and equipped with skills to manage a sustainable soap-making project. Justina brought a holistic approach to the project, focusing on all aspects of hygiene, including promoting the national initiative to make Kenya “Open-Defecation-Free by 2020”. After the training, each school forms a health club including parents, teachers, and students to spearhead the soap making and hygiene promotion.
“I have never, trained such a wonderful group before! It’s awesome, amazing and so thrilling to see how they have passionately embraced the concept,” says Pereira.
Liquid soap is a multi- purpose, affordable product that everyone needs. Community and school based Health Clubs promote the cause in the school and at home. Soap making takes place under teacher supervision and may be integrated with topics in science, math, social studies, and literacy. Soap sales promote good hygiene, increase school attendance, and provide an elegant self-sustaining solution to a critical issue in our rural community.
“Soap making has helped us very much,” says Josephine, a teacher at Kambiti Primary School. “We make some money to buy soap materials. Children are washing hands, uniforms, utensils, and even classrooms. They feel very good! The whole community is appreciating the soap making project so much and their general health has improved.”
As the workshops were being conducted, many teachers felt that to have the program fully operational and flourishing, that the school headmasters needed to be involved. A month later, we invited head teachers to a special meeting to explain the program, the importance of hand washing and how they could support it. At the end of the meeting, all 33 participating Headmasters indicated they were ready to support the program.
“The soap-making project has helped our school by selling it to make money to more materials for making soap,” says Matheka Wambua, a standard 7 student at Kambiti Primary School. “I am now able to wash my hands after visiting the toilets and before eating. I am using the soap to wash my school uniform and utensils at home.”
We will continue to monitor to see how keeping our students healthy and in school translates to success!
Learn more about Kenya Connect and its work here.