Hand Washing: A problem for Congolese Children

Every year on October 15, the whole world celebrates hand-washing day. The slogan in DRC this year is: “Clean hands, no microbes!” For the occasion, my reporter friends in Kinshasa and I went into two schools, one which was a certified healthy school and another which was not. Here is what I observed.

First, we visited the Makanza primary school, which is a healthy school. We were pleased to discover that the students were instructed to wash their hands and to see that they washed their hands in a group, to the rhythm of an educational song that described the different steps needed to correctly wash hands.  We then learned that this group system of hand washing was very new: it had only been in place for one week.


Le système ainsi installé permet à tous les enfants de se laver les mains ensemble

The system provides the possibility for all children to wash their hands together

In the framework of our role as reporters, we interviewed Justesse, a nine-year-old student at the school. We asked her the following questions:

–       What does a “healthy school” mean to you?

“It’s a school which has potable water, a clean schoolyard, and clean bathrooms.”

–       Why do we need to wash our hands?

“To avoid the diseases caused by dirty hands.”

–       Why do you wash your hands in groups?

“It’s a sign of friendship, which also helps other students to correctly wash their hands.”

We were very happy with these responses, because they confirmed that he understood the hand washing messages. Patrick did not tell me what he meant by “diseases caused by dirty hands,” but I understood that he did not want to suffer from diseases such as typhoid fever, pneumonia, or Ebola, which are transmitted by dirty hands.

During their recess, we saw by their actions and from what they told us that the students understood the importance of washing hands before critical times: before eating, after using the bathroom, after greeting people, before preparing food, and before breastfeeding.

After visiting the Makanza primary school, we went to the Maman Sifa school, which is not a healthy school.

Once we arrived, we interviewed a student at the school named Enock, a nine-year-old student in the fourth grade. He told us that he did not know about the October 15th date, unlike those at the other school. I think that the school, especially the teachers, should talk to children about various events that are important for them. A civic and moral education course exists, which educates children about the news, among other things. This could be an opportunity to educate children about such types of important days.


Here is our exchange:

–       What do you do before eating and after using the bathrooms?

“When the bell rings for recess, I run quickly to buy food and then I eat it.”

–       What do you use to wash your hands?

“It’s rare that I use soap to wash my hands in school, but at my home when there is no soap, I just use water or I use a stone.”

–       Do you have a sink for hand washing?

“Yes, but there is only one, which is insufficient for the whole school”.

We see right away that the child does not know to wash his hands before eating. If we were in a healthy school, he would know that it is necessary to wash his hands, and he could do it thanks to the proper facilities, which don’t exist in his school. Hand washing with a stone is a common practice: people who do so are often those who don’t know how else to wash their hands, except for with soap. We can teach them: when there is no soap, one should use cinders to wash his or her hands.

He ended by asking the government to ensure that his school will also benefit from the healthy schools program. 

IMG_2694At the end of our investigation, we found a mother in the village with the healthy school. She told us about what happened before the program started: “There were infant deaths linked to water, now the situation has changed a little, children no longer die from waterborne diseases.” Taking advantage of our video reporting for our show The Voice of the Child on RTNC, the mother asked the government to do more than what was already done in her village : she specially asked for roads to facilitate the access to the drinking water source.

 We, child reporters in Kinshasa, take this opportunity to ask the government to expand this program in all parts of Kinshasa in order to protect children against various diseases related to dirty hands. Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that the state has an obligation to ensure children’s health. Expanding the healthy schools program will also help achieve the objective “clean hands, no microbes.”

Health is priceless – we argue – so give us the means to achieve these goals. 

Translated from french by Kelly Lugbill.

Photo : UNICEF RDC 2014 Charlotte Gout

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Jonathan is 16 years old and he is a youth reporter Kinshasa. He studied at Saint Joseph College and wants to become a lawyer to defend the children’s rights. His dream? That his country “become a country fit for children, a country that respects the rights of the children and put them at the center of everything.”

Jonathana 16 ans et il est enfant reporter de Kinshasa. Il étudie au collège Saint Joseph et aimerait devenir avocat pour défendre les droits des enfants. Son rêve? Que son pays “devienne un pays digne des enfants, un pays qui respecte les droits de l’enfant et qui les mettent au centre de tout.

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