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Fit for the Future! Combating Malnutrition through Daily Handwashing in Schools

October 11, 2017

By Alex Winkscha, Regional Coordinator for Cambodia & Lao PDR, GIZ Regional Fit for School Program

This year’s celebration of the Global Handwashing Day takes place under the theme of “Our Hands, Our Future”. For many children across the world, their future hinges on the availability of drinking water and food, and on proper nutrition throughout the crucial developmental stages of their lives. In Lao PDR, the national staple is sticky rice, eaten by almost all children basically every day—with their hands. So their nutrition, and their future, quite literally is in their hands.

In recent years, Lao PDR has made great progress in access to education. However, a persistent problem in schools still is malnutrition. Combined with poor hygiene and sanitation standards, many children retain diseases and are stunted. Among others, the World Food Programme (WFP) supports the Lao Government in promoting access to food for schoolchildren in over 1,500 schools with the goal to improve education indicators, especially in remote and ethnically diverse areas.

The successful collaboration of the regional GIZ Fit for School program with the World Food Program to support the Ministry of Education and Sports of Lao PDR in improving nutritional gains through school meals by promoting better hygiene practices in schools is highlighted in the following short video.

Watch the Fit for Food in Laos video on partnering for better WASH & nutrition.

In Oudomxay Province, Northern Lao PDR, the Fit for School program has partnered with the WFP to spread the improvement of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in schools, with a particular focus on the influence of better WASH on nutrition. In 20 schools that receive school lunch support from WFP, the Fit for School approach uses existing structures to improve WASH by focusing on daily group activities, such as handwashing and toothbrushing and implementing routine cleaning schedules to maintain the facilities. GIZ and WFP both bring expertise and funding to achieve the joint objective of improving hygiene practices and nutritional gains in schools—led by the Beng District Education Bureau officials to strengthen their role as guides and mentors to school management when it comes to implementing incremental changes in hygiene practices. Spillover effects are already visible—other schools have been inspired by the low-cost and step-wise approach and started constructing their own washing facilities to start with daily group handwashing and toothbrushing before and after lunch.

Fit for School program in Lao PDR. Courtesy of GIZ.

Led by the Ministry of Education and Sports, the pilot cooperation between GIZ Fit for School and WFP started in 20 schools in Beng district in September 2016. There are a total 64 primary schools in Beng, where about 4,000 boys and girls receive their education. Centered around the routine of eating lunch together at school every day, students now change their hygiene habits by washing hands and brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste to prevent caries lesions and tooth decay.

Fit for School started with 22 GIZ-supported model schools in Vientiane Capital in 2011. As of September 2017, there are 1,060 primary schools across all of Lao PDR that implement the Fit for School approach, most of them through the scale-up efforts of the Ministry of Education and Sports and supported by their communities. The education officials on all levels took it in their hands to make sure that the hands of schoolchildren across Lao PDR are clean for a bright and healthy future.

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