LOMÉ, Togo (July 13, 2012) — In Togo, under-five child mortality rates are staggering; more than one in ten die before their fifth birthday. Many of these children could be saved if simple hygiene practices, like handwashing with soap, were adopted.
The importance of handwashing is easily taught in schools with the necessary infrastructure, yet many schools in Togo do not have hygiene and sanitation facilities. In schools without these essential facilities, the challenge lies in developing simple handwashing devices.
It is this challenge that the Ministries of Health, Water and Education pledged to meet by jointly launching a competition to develop these devices in schools. The contest would teach children proper handwashing while also offering them an opportunity to exercise their creativity by designing their own functional handwashing devices.
The launch of the competition took place on October 20, 2011, during the celebration of Global Handwashing Day, before a crowd of children and youth as well as water, sanitation and hygiene specialists and development partners.
Ahmadou Sani, head of the Hygiene and Sanitation Department in the Ministry of Health, was responsible for organizing the competition. “With UNICEF’s support, we assembled the organizing committee of experts from the Ministries involved and technicians from development NGOs to monitor the competition… We met with officials from these schools, parent associations and student spokespersons… The enthusiasm and commitment levels were great!”
Thirty-six primary schools from around the country participated. They were told that the handwashing device should be composed of a water storage tank, a tap and a run-off area where waste water could be absorbed, meeting criteria for both hygiene and environmental protection.
Between October and December, students met at recess every other week to design and build their devices. Teachers, parents, students and communities all rallied together to support their children.
To the children, branches, clay, cartons, nails, rubber bands and other materials all held untapped potential. “We used red earth to build a container,” said Tilalo, a student at Soumdina School. “The container could hold water that we would then use to wash our hands. The women in the village helped us to shape the container and attach a hose to it. We then placed the device on a high chair so that the water would flow down.”
Regional juries then identified six finalists, one from each region. A grand jury in Lomé, composed of the Ministers of Health, Water, and Education and the UNICEF and World Health Organization country representatives, selected the winner. Deliberations were only scheduled to take half an hour, but the final decision took almost an hour longer.
“It was a very difficult exercise…. Nevertheless, in the end we had to make a choice, and in the spirit of imagination, the children of the Amoussime School in the Maritime region prevailed,” said Minister of Health Kondi Charles Agba.
The Amoussime students’ device was constructed from recycled, durable materials and was designed to allow three children to wash their hands simultaneously. The second and third prizes went, respectively, to Lower Soumdina in the Kara region and Wahala school in the Plateaux region.
Delegations from all the schools were present at the awards ceremony. The winning students received their award from the Minister of Health himself.
“We are very proud to return to our village with the trophy and other gifts that UNICEF has provided for us,” said one Amoussime student. “Our friends and parents will be very happy.”
“We are pleased that this first competition has managed to mobilize so many children and adults, whilst at the same time allowing them to have fun and flex their creativity,” said UNICEF Representative in Togo Viviane Van Steirteghem. “The top three designs will be used in the design of future devices for use in schools so that the practice of handwashing can be extended to all schools at a minimal cost.”
Schools selected for next year’s competition will be announced on World Handwashing Day 2012.