Every year on October 15, the world commemorates Global Handwashing Day – a day set aside to raise awareness, recognizing the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective disease prevention method. Diarrhoeal disease, often contracted through contaminated water sources and poor hygiene practices, is the second leading cause of death for children under five globally. Yet this disease is almost entirely preventable and treatable; in fact, current rates of diarrhoeal disease could be cut in half through proper handwashing alone.  

In Botswana, The Coca-Cola Foundation (TCCF) and its partners are committed to improving child health and hygiene. Through the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), TCCF is partnering with JG Afrika and Botswana’s Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE) to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) conditions in Botswanan schools. This initiative will ultimately improve handwashing behavior, knowledge, and accessibility for over 25,000 students and teachers across the country.

The initiative is centered around the use of a toolkit comprising twelve lessons focused on basic WASH education, planning, and monitoring of water-use and performance. The toolkit and its implementation are managed by students who voluntarily serve as leaders on the School WASH Management Team, with support from teachers and school administration.

Student ownership of this project is key to the long-term adoption of the hygiene behaviors it promotes. The WASH Management Teams monitor WASH conditions at schools, spread WASH knowledge among their peers, and serve as role models by demonstrating proper WASH practices. Through this structure, students are empowered to take responsibility for WASH in their school and encourage uptake of personal hygiene improvements.

For example, the toolkit teaches students how to construct tippy taps – simple and cost-effective handwashing stations. These structures can be made within minutes anywhere on school premises, providing instant access to handwashing facilities across campus. The benefits of students’ improved WASH knowledge ripples through the community. Students can construct tippy taps in their homes and spread improved handwashing behavior to their communities and families.

Tippy taps
Students learn to construct tippy taps – small handwashing stations that can be easily placed on school grounds to encourage handwashing.

Prior to this project, many schools faced challenges with vandalism of toilet facilities, limited water access, and ill-equipped handwashing stations. Poor WASH conditions in schools can create student attendance issues and limit achievement in school. For example, students can get sick and miss school if they cannot wash their hands before eating or after using the bathroom. Girls in particular are disproportionally affected by inadequate WASH conditions in school. Many girls will not go to school while menstruating due to a lack of toilet and handwashing facilities. In addition to affecting student health, poor WASH conditions in Botswanan schools inflate water bills and maintenance costs for schools – robbing funds that could otherwise be spent on educational materials. 

These conditions were, in part, due to limited awareness about the importance of WASH among students across Botswana. Less than 1% of students in participating schools could pass the basic WASH knowledge test before this project began. By the time all toolkits are implemented in schools it is anticipated that every student will be able to pass the test.

Tshwaragano Junior Secondary School
Students in the Tshwaragano Junior Secondary School (North-West District) WASH Management Team

In line with Coca-Cola’s proven Golden Triangle model, RAIN’s close collaboration with the MoBE is critical to the initiative’s success. Though government capacity building and support for integrating the toolkit into the national Environmental Education curriculum, this project will continue to empower students through improved WASH access and knowledge for generations to come, building a stronger and healthier future for the nation.

Global Handwashing Day serves as a reminder to all that proper WASH is key to global health and development. When students have safe, clean learning environments, can use the toilet with dignity, and are empowered to take care of their school and community, their potential is endless. Through RAIN, students across the country are gaining important leadership skills, confidence, and healthy habits to become the future leaders of Botswana.

Oreneile Enerst
Oreneile Enerst, student at Sedie Junior Secondary School and author of the poem, “They Call Me Wash”.

THEY CALL ME WASH

By: Oreneile Enerst

I was born in a place
Completely the opposite of me
As I grew up, I could see
What my neighbours desired to be
They were strange, I tell you
They would kill
And nobody could stop them
They would steal
And nobody could arrest them
I was introduced to them one day
Waste, Pollution and Disease
I never liked them to be honest
Don't blame me please
I had ambitions of my own
My own dreams
Me, myself and I

I told my mother RAIN
My intentions
She then became
My source of inspiration
I told her of my vision
My vision to see our neighbours dead
My mission to do that myself
To make the world a better place
With my mom's help
Me, myself and I

To this day,
I still stand firm and strong
Fortunately my relatives offered to assist
For they know
I'm up to nothing wrong
JG, COLA and RAIN
Relatives who will always be there
Through joy and pain
Who will be there
Through this fight,
Day and night,
To end the lives,
Of our enemies
Our neighbours
Me, myself and I

My name is Water
My nickname is Sanitation
And my surname is Hygiene
My friends call me WASH
Me, myself and I