The atmosphere was serene, with a mild breeze blowing gently to soothe the heat of the sunny afternoon. Happy chants were coming from all directions as children sang joyfully: "Handwashing is good. Hygiene has taught us to be neat. Wash your hands very well. Remove dirt from fingernails before eating. Handwashing is good."
The new facilites were constructed by the local government in collaboration with UNICEF and the community. "I am very happy that you take handwashing very seriously," Dr. Sakai told the students at the end of the school tour.
Touring the improved facilites
Uchi School is composed of 239 girls and 237 boys, and the improved latrines are separated for boys and girls.
Next to the latrines are several water points, which have been constructed to enable the pupils to wash their hands. The safe water comes from a borehole built with UNICEF support.
After the tour, the pupils gave Dr. Sakai a demonstration of how to properly wash your hands. She said she was happy that the children can learn, through their actions, what it means to have good hygiene.
"We all know in our heads, in our minds, that it is healthy, but when you start as a child, it becomes a habit," she stressed.
A key role for children
Sanitation has not always been a priority in Uchi, a community of 728 households. Many people do not have household latrines and, in the past, open defecation was widely practiced. Consequently, the health and well-being of children and other members of the community was often compromised by recurring and frequent outbreaks of diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation.
With approximately one month left in the International Year of Sanitation, the community now has 106 household latrines, with handwashing facilities at their sides.
Uchi has completed construction of a ventilated pit latrine for communal use and there are now 17 boreholes serving to provide water for the 5,000 community residents.
Children have played a key role in improving sanitation in Nigeria. Dr. Sakai underscored this point by pointing out how pivotal children are to bringing home the practice of handwashing to their families and communities.
Community health and hygiene
One source of community motivation in Uchi is a local outreach team. UNICEF supported the State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency in the training of several women on the topic of hygiene promotion and environmental sanitation.
The vigorous work of the hygiene promoters has been instrumental in the successful adoption of the community-led 'total sanitation strategy' in Uchi. The strategy places households at the forefront of sanitation efforts.
During her visit, Dr. Sakai noted that she was happy the community had taken the issue of sanitation and hygiene seriously and was involved in the provision of services.
The local spokesperson for community leaders, Chief Ayenge Yenge, affirmed Uchi's determination to remain on the path of improved sanitation. "We shall not relax," he promised. "We shall continue."