WASH in Ghana: What we do and why it works

By: Margaret Mary Debre, Ghana WASH Coordinator

An overview of PoP Ghana WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) to date:

  • 6,500 students and 270 teachers across our 30 WASH schools have benefited from our health education and infrastructure
  • 824 students have enrolled in our hygiene clubs in the 30 schools
  • In 2017, 1,214 parents were reached through our community and PTA engagements

I have always believed that a healthy mind lives in a healthy body, and that students need to be physically well to have a sound mind in order to study and concentrate in school. In my role as the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Coordinator for Pencils of Promise in Ghana, my team and I are working hard to keep the school environment for students both healthy and safe.

PoP Ghana WASH infrastructure

A bit about our WASH program

Our WASH program starts with providing schools with toilets and urinals, dustbins, cleaning detergents, water filters and handwashing stations. We administer workshops twice a year to both Head Teachers and School Health Education Program (SHEP) Coordinators from the 30 WASH schools in Ghana. At these workshops, we provide training on health and hygiene-related topics, such as worm infections, clean water, handwashing, building of Tippy-Taps, menstrual hygiene management and how to avoid communicable diseases, among others. Strategies discussed include use of hygiene slogans and WASH behavior change communication tools like visual demonstrations (e.g., flashcards) that explain healthy behaviors to help trigger change among students. In addition to our workshops, my team and I reach out to parents and community members through Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings and provide education materials on healthy behaviors. Our approach reaches a large group of people and provides support on WASH strategies on various levels.

Empowering students to be agents of change

The next important piece of our WASH program is the Hygiene Club: a group of students at each school who serve as advocates for healthy behaviors. SHEP Coordinators provide guidance to student members of the Hygiene Club and relay information shared during workshops. Hygiene Clubs are a critical component to the success of our WASH program as student members are encouraged to be agents of change in their communities and provide a positive influence to their peers at school.

Teachers and students have shared with me that they enjoy our WASH program and believe we’re making positive changes. For example, a Primary 6th grade teacher at Akpokope Primary School recently told me how pleased he was with the PoP WASH program in their school and expressed great appreciation for the handwashing stations, water filters and the health education sessions that PoP has provided. He has seen a gradual change in the behavior of students at his school and wants to continue promoting health behaviors for future students.

PoP students at a handwashing station

It’s not just about washing your hands

PoP’s WASH program isn’t just about changing student behaviors around toilet use and handwashing. I personally take a lot of pride in the menstrual hygiene management sessions we host that focus on impacting students perceptions toward menstruation. Girls are more likely to not attend school during their period, due to not having access to sanitary pads and proper education about menstrual hygiene which can lead to embarrassment and/or discomfort.

Millicent, a SHEP Coordinator at Akpokope School, is excited about including menstrual hygiene education in PoP’s WASH Program. She shared, “I like the way PoP teaches the students on materials to use during their period and how they can make it safe and hygienic.” She added that most parents find it difficult to educate their adolescent girls on menstruation and, therefore, it is important to have PoP provide students with this education. Madam Benedicta, the headmistress at Bapke Basic school, was also pleased with PoP’s efforts in menstrual hygiene, particularly the inclusion of adolescent boys and male teachers, as well as teaching girls how to make sanitary pads with cloth. The necessity to know how to make sanitary pads out of local cloth emerged as a result of girls using unsafe materials during their period. By teaching girls how to make their own sanitary pads with safe and reusable cloths, girls can have access to adequate and sustainable materials during their menstrual cycle. We have found that our approach is sustainable for menstrual education, as the cloth can be washed and used multiple times.

As a result of these trainings, girls feel more comfortable to talk about their menstruation and including boys in the discussion has helped them to appreciate that menstruation is normal and not a taboo.

Promoting a healthy future

PoP’s WASH program in Ghana is empowering students to take the lead in health education and promote health and safe school environments. I am excited about the work my team is doing and look forward to extending our WASH program to other schools to help impact more students’ health behavior. Students are agents of CHANGE, they are the key to HEALTHY LIVES, and they are the FUTURE.

The author (Margaret Mary Debre) leading a young group of change agents