Obada and Husam, two second grade pupils at Silwad Elementary School for boys near Ramallah (West Bank), listened very carefully to a PRCS Safe Motherhood Committee volunteer as she lectured their class on school-based health issues. Tens of their classmates gathered around Ms. Dalal Hammad as she spoke about personal hygiene, washing hands before and after eating, keeping school playgrounds and classrooms clean, as well as home and school garden designs. Ms. Olivia Kaher, another volunteer, then spoke about nutrition, breakfast meals, proper and healthy food and avoiding bad eating habits which cause illnesses and health problems.
Ms. Hammad and Ms. Kaher visit schools under the supervision of Ms. Fatima Mahmoud who works as a nurse at the PRCS Health Care Center in Silwad. For five years, they have been providing lectures and holding weekly workshops for students from grades one to twelve as part of the School-Based Health Program.
Awareness-Raising Plan “Ever since 2001, the PRCS has participated in this Program implemented by the ministries of health and education, in line with a comprehensive awareness-raising plan targeting children in order to educate them about various health issues. We work with members from Safe Motherhood Committees (SMCs) created by PRCS in 2001 with the participation of more than 1000 volunteers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They take part in courses and awareness-raising workshops on health and social issues which they convey to pupils in this school as well as in five other schools in Silwad. 15 SMC members from Silwad cover these schools where they provide lectures, organize activities and open days on various health issues. We decide on subjects tackled on a case by case basis: Sometimes, we tackle health issues covered by the school curriculum while on other times we speak about the World Heath Day, the Diabetes World Day, school hygiene, nutrition and sexual harassment”, said nurse Fatima.
Qualified Lecturers SMC members were given health lectures by specialized personnel from PRCS’ Primary Health Care Program which they convey to their communities as well as to school pupils. Dalal Hammad, who is active in the local SMC, added: “The information that we convey to pupils was given to us during SMC meetings as well as through lectures held by the Primary health Care Program’s experts. We visit schools once or twice a month, and we feel at ease amongst students. We benefit and we also feel useful as we help convey sound information which benefits every house and family”, she said.
Diverse Activities Not only are lectures given, but various educational and recreational activities are also held targeting different age groups, with children singing, dancing and celebrating health and school. “Our annual program includes recreational activities, trips on the World Health Day, collective Ramadan meals, hygiene and nutrition-related events as well as plays about chronic diseases and emergencies. We also distribute symbolic gifts strong with meaning such as soap, tooth brushes and healthy food including fruits”, said nurse Fatima.
Pupils and their parents The smiles on the faces of second grade pupils at this Silwad school reflect the great impact of the program. They are happy, proactive and take part in cheering and singing activities. Pupil Obada Hussam said: “I am very happy with these nice school activities. I also benefit a lot because I can maintain my personal hygiene a well as the cleanliness of my house, room, school and classroom. Moreover, I eat well because I want to maintain a healthy diet. PRCS taught us how to wash our hands, avoid diseases and face colds and the flu. Lectures were given about swine flu, open days were organized and once we had breakfast together”. His classmate Iyad al Kaher said: “My school results have improved. I divide my time between playing and studying. This way I am always happy”.
Parents shared their children’s views. Hussam’s mother, who also took part in this activity, said: “Such activities inspire pupils on all levels. They also improve pupils’ lives as well as their school achievement. After each activity, Hussam comes home and tells me “Mother, I am a champion now”. I can also clearly see the impact and psychological effect of the simple symbolic and useful gifts distributed by PRCS to pupils such as soap and toothbrushes”.
Directorate of Education Views Ussama Hammad, School Principal, said: “These activities have changed the way our school operates as well as pupils’ impression about it. Pupils feel happy outside the classroom where they enjoy breathing space. For five years, PRCS has been implementing this program at our school and we have immediately noticed its positive impact on pupils’ hygiene, health practices, school cleanliness and academic achievements”.
Partnership Promoting Program According to Abdelgafer Omar, Program Coordinator at PRCS’ Primary Health Care Department, the School-Based Health Program was initiated in 2003 by the West Bank School Health Committee with the participation of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the PRCS, Medical Relief Committees, Health Work Committees and the Mobile Rehabilitation Program.
Each health institution covers a number of schools in every Governorate. For example, PRCS is in charge of 13 schools out of the 278 schools in Ramallah Governorate, including in Ramallah City, Silwad, Yabroud and Deir Abou Misha’l. PRCS implements the program through 27 Primary Health Care Centers in the West Bank through Governorate Committees which coordinate between various institutions and assign tasks.
The program is part of the Community-Based Health Program. It includes several health education and awareness-raising activities as well as First Aid courses which raise awareness about school accidents, diseases, hygiene and healthy diets. Activities are executed in line with a systematic annual plan which includes awareness-raising lectures for various age groups on School Phobia, school dropout, smoking, cheating and attacks against school premises.
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