Uncleanliness and academic failure
At this very moment that we – Eunice, Monica, Glodi and Nathan, Young Reporters from Kinshasa – are speaking to you, tens of thousands of children haven’t attended school because they contracted an illness from studying in an unsanitary environment. You will agree with us that a child who is regularly absent from school cannot achieve good grades at the end of the school year. After failing more than once at school, a child loses the desire to ever go back. And not finishing school poses a problem for the child, the child’s family and the community. Creating healthy school environments is mainly the responsibility of the Congolese government, with the aid of its partners, including UNICEF and Brussels Capitale.
Article 28 (e) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that State Parties shall: “Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.”
Article 44 of the Law on the Protection of the Child states that:
“The child has the right to a healthy environment which is suitable for his/her full development”.
And yet, despite these written obligations, the majority of the schools in Kinshasa are not equipped with water points or hygienic toilets.
Young Reporters and Healthy Schools: a winning combination
The Kinshasa Young Reporters are well placed to discuss the benefits of certified Healthy Schools. Some of us Young Reporters study in these schools, and we can confidently say that their presence has allowed for the consolidation of progress and, above all, helps avoid losing the Healthy School status. Through sharing our experiences, the Young Reporters whose schools were not part of the Healthy School programme have petitioned their heads of schools. They have managed to get water points installed in their schools, to have rubbish bins placed by each classroom or even to have toilets built.
The combination of a Reporter and a Healthy School means avoiding losing the Healthy School status (Young Reporters actively participate in the process). This also allows the students to get involved, and thus consolidates good hygiene practices in all schools.
Our own few experiences have demonstrated that children who have learnt good hygiene practices at school take these home with them, and therefore have an influence on the other members of the family.
Making Healthy Schools widespread
Since we have been asked to give our opinion on the subject as young people, we will tell you what we would like for the future:
1. The introduction of student brigadiers responsible for cleanliness in Healthy Schools, who will also be trained to be Young Reporters.
This will give them the opportunity to carry out their roles as: catalysts for change, school and community spokespersons, guarantors for the consolidation of current progress, documenters of school life, and creators of an approach based on rights, unlike the current approach based on need.
2. The end of the discrimination which sees only the schools on the outskirts of Kinshasa benefiting from the Healthy School programme.
3. For the Healthy School programme to also be put in place in secondary schools, in line with the right of all children to benefit from a healthy environment suitable for their full development. In other words, for this programme to become widespread.
Listen to our message
In this way we will not only have contributed to maintaining the good health of those students in Kinshasa, but will have allowed all children to avoid absences due to illnesses caused by an unsanitary school environment.
Surely no one is of the opinion that the children of today should become a problem for the society of tomorrow.
If we were to find that in a few years’ time the school drop-out rate due to illnesses from dirty hands or respiratory infections remained the same, this would not mark a failure for children, but rather for all the decision-makers gathered here.
We, the Young Reporters of Kinshasa, are convinced no one will accept failure on the issue of water, hygiene and sanitising the school environment.
A memorable trip
In view of a beneficial cooperation between Kinshasa and the Brussels region, two Belgian delegates; Mr Decorte and Mrs Sophie Willaumez, came to visit Kinshasa.
On 11 May 2016 we went to the Limete technical institute to present the Young Reporters project to them. We then went together to one of the certified Health Schools, the Marie madeleine school in the Nsele municipality.
The student brigadier (Healthy School hygiene brigadier) Raissa said a few words of welcome. Afterwards, we were able to visit some of the classrooms as well as a demonstration of hand washing by the school brigadiers.
We, the Young Reporters of Kinshasa, then seized the opportunity to petition them to examine the possibility of scaling up the Healthy School programme throughout Kinshasa province. Nathan read out our petition and we then exchanged questions between the delegates, the student brigadiers and the Young Reporters.
One particular aspect of this day stood out for us: This July, an agreement will be signed between Kinshasa and the Brussels region. Through this cooperation, we hope that the first steps will be made towards increasing the scale of the Healthy School project, not only in Kinshasa but throughout the DRC!
Post translated from French by Amber Sherman
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