Protecting Kiribati’s youngest citizens with handwashing lessons

Above: Preschool teacher Kaitiroo said the handwashing and hygiene lessons supported her to instil important habits in her young students. Photo: ChildFund Kiribati

In Kiribati, preschool teachers have been trained on handwashing and hygiene techniques to help protect some of the country’s youngest citizens against COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses.

The training has run alongside the installation of handwashing stations at preschools and maneabas (traditional community meeting places), also supported by AHP through partners ChildFund Kiribati and Plan International Australia.

Kaitiroo, 38, has been a preschool teacher since 2018 at a Catholic Mission preschool in Betio, where she teaches children aged one to five basic literacy, maths, hygiene, safety and religious lessons. She is also a proud mother of 10 children, one boy and nine girls.

In November 2021, Kaitiroo participated in ChildFund Kiribati’s workshop on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH). Kaitiroo said she believes this topic is very important for the good health of her students and children, especially to protect them from the pandemic.

As a preschool teacher, she said she wanted to establish good habits in her students while they are young. Students have already benefitted from the easy-to-use handwashing station, and now know how important it is to wash their hands after playing and before eating, Kaitiroo said.

“Handwashing has become the school children’s habit, and it is good to see their quick response whenever I sing the handwashing song. Whenever I sing, they all run to the handwashing sinks to clean their hands,” she said.

Teachers and parents were also using the stations to keep the school environment clean and safe, she added.

At the workshop, Kaitiroo also learnt ways to purify drinking water, and she will share this knowledge with her students and their families.

Above: Nei Tiri with her preschool-aged son. She was happy to see him bring home good handwashing and hygiene practices from his lessons at preschool. Photo: ChildFund Kiribati

Parents are also seeing the benefits of the training and handwashing stations.

Nei Tiri, 37, has two sons, with her youngest attending the preschool.

“When I first heard about the breakout of COVID-19, I was in great fear, worry and panic because I did not know what to do - especially how to keep my children safe. Also our hospital has insufficient supplies and equipment to accommodate people in Kiribati if they are affected,” Nei Tiri said.

Nei Tiri said she was very thankful for the installation of the new handwashing station at the maneaba where her son’s preschool is located. Watching her son’s behaviour change so that he washed his hands regularly made her very happy as a parent, and she was surprised to see him bring the new routines home, washing his hands without being told to.

“This is a sign of good learning and it is critical to protect the children from getting sick,” she said.

Nei Tiri said she has seen signs of change in her wider community in response to the pandemic, and the information provided by NGOs and government on the importance of good hygiene practices – more people are focusing on handwashing, neatness and cleanliness, she said.

She hopes that her children gain a strong education, grow up healthy and wisely and become great leaders of the country. And, as they grow older, Nei Tiri said she hopes they can pass on this valuable knowledge to younger generations.

ChildFund Kiribati is the local implementing partner of Plan International Australia under the Australian Humanitarian Partnership’s COVID-19 response in Kiribati. In partnership with ChildFund New Zealand, Plan International Australia leads one of three projects in Kiribati as part of the response, which is funded by the Australian Government.