December 28, 2023
Excerpt—read the full article
Handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way to prevent transmission of many disease-causing germs. It is especially important for young students because they interact closely with many others every day, and because their immune systems are less developed. An estimated 75% of student absenteeism is linked to illnesses caused by lack of handwashing. The School Ambassador program recently launched HappyTap Philippines is a creative approach to address this challenge.
For the past few years the Philippines has made significant progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 4 - quality education and SDG 6 - water, sanitation, and hygiene for all. This progress is due in part to school guidelines, which call on all schools to embrace and achieve the WinS Three Star Approach (TSA). More and more schools are installing next-generation handwashing stations to reach the Three Star status faster and more efficiently.
As stated in multiple studies, hygiene awareness-raising alone cannot sustain improvements in handwashing behaviour. Hygiene education needs to be accompanied by clean, functional and conveniently located handwashing facilities that allow students to wash their hands whenever required. This helps turn knowledge into action, and in turn helps sustain a long-lasting habit.
“If we learn and practice healthy habits in school, we will also be able to practice them at home.”
- Carleen S. Sedilla, Ceso V, School Division Superintendent- School Divisions Office Quezon City.
According to the Joint Monitoring Programme of UNICEF and the WHO, more than 10 million Filipino students do not have access to proper handwashing facilities within schools, which leads to increased learning loss. A major study found that 75% of student absenteeism was linked to diseases caused by lack of handwashing. This critical gap inspired HappyTap to create a School Ambassador Program: a unique initiative to boost handwashing infrastructure in schools. Beyond mere infrastructure, this program molds students into handwashing and hygiene leaders, encapsulated by its rallying cry, "Raise our Hands, Pilipinas!"
The School Ambassador Program is designed to build a culture of handwashing, led by schools, that requires a commitment to place handwashing facilities in every classroom. This arrangement allows for monitoring by teachers, and encourages peer-to-peer reinforcement of proper handwashing behavior.
“Every corner of the classroom is a teaching opportunity, and this one is teaching hand washing. They [students] become more disciplined and aware of protecting themselves while in school.”
- Welbert Borlado,Hen Pio Del Pilar School 1, HappyTap Ambassador School in Makati
Demand-led - to be a part of this program, schools fill out an application to indicate their interest. They can also be nominated by other schools. Schools selection follows a site visit by HappyTap, and an interview with the principal and the WASH coordinators of the school district. The goal is to learn about the leadership and WASH initiatives undertaken by the school, which tend to be good indicators of ability to implement the program successfully. Finally, HappyTap conducts health and hygiene awareness camps for students, as well as orientation sessions for teachers.
Since the inception of the program, students have 'Raised their Hands' in Navotas City, Quezon City, City of Manila, Malabon City, Makati City, Muntinlupa City and the Municipality of Alitagtag. Every ambassador school so far has really embraced the initiative—across students, teachers, WASH Coordinators and district school division heads.
Check out some videos capturing the action: Raise Our Hands Pilipinas!