Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Targeting children as agents of change

"When I see people throwing things on the streets, I ask them to stop," said 13-year old Islam, a student at the Zarazra Elementary School in the governorate of Sohag.

Old or young, Islam does not hesitate to ask politely the members of his community to respect the environment. Having learned about proper environmental and sanitary practices through UNICEF's School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE) project, Islam has become a self- appointed ambassador to his community.

Implemented in 377 primary schools in the Upper Egyptian governorates of Assiut, Sohag and Qena, the SSHE project is a collaborative effort between UNICEF and the National Center for Educational Research and Development (NCERD). Funded by USAID with a contribution from Coca-Cola, the project aims to ensure an overall safe environment for children and raise students' awareness on sanitation, hygiene and environmental care.

Specifically, it seeks to improve the quality of drinking water, sanitary facilities and hygiene practices and increase environmental awareness at primary schools and provide social services to improve community environmental and health conditions.

Apart from rehabilitating and maintaining school water and sanitation utilities and supporting household water connections to the students' homes, the SSHE project also developed the School Sanitation Kit to serve as a training manual and a teaching aid for primary school teachers.

Teachers also attended an organized training to develop the skills necessary to integrate environment, sanitation and hygiene education into a variety of school subjects.

"Before we could educate the children and enable them to reach their families and community, we needed to become aware ourselves first," said Abdel Hadi Zarzouq, Headmaster of the Al-Hajir Elementary School in the governorate of Sohag. "Otherwise, we would not have been convinced of the importance of the project. And without conviction, no work is fruitful."

Indeed, teachers have found interesting and creative ways to help children learn and retain these messages. In the village of Bakour in Assiut, 12-year old Haagar performs a solo about a pretty raspberry seed asking to be planted. "I am a seed, I am a seed, I am a small seed," she sings. "Art has a unique way of turning the beneficiary into an active participant, thereby strengthening infinitely the learning process and the love of the subject matter," said Dr. Vijayakumar Moses, Chief of Young Child Survival and Development (YCSD) at UNICEF Egypt.

But the students are not just active participants in art and song. Like Islam, most of these primary school children feel a responsibility to educate their families and communities. This participatory approach to the project multiplies the success of the initiative well beyond the 377 target primary schools.

"I have learned a lot about how to keep the environment safe at school," said 10-year old Fatima from the village of Tawayel El-Sharqiyya in Sohag. "Now, whenever I meet a child who doesn't take care of the environment, I feel sorry for him, and I try and tell him ways to change his or her habits."

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