Children benefit from improved hygiene following the tsunami in Thailand

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By Rob McBride

KRABI PROVINCE, Thailand, 29 December 2009 - At the Baan Klonggum School in Thailand's Krabi province, hygiene is no less important than lessons or games. Students scrub and shine the floors of the latrine block - their work overseen by parents recruited into the effort to create a cleaner, safer school environment.

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Varee Ginglek, father of two boys at the school, ages 10 and 12, has witnessed the change.

"When the boys come home after school they always wash their hands and feet, which they have learned from their teachers," said Mr. Ginglek.

Change inspired by crisis

The emphasis on improved sanitation and hygiene education is the result of changes introduced since the Indian Ocean tsunami. In addition to the new latrine block, the school has an improved rainwater collection system, provided with support from UNICEF. Many students in Krabi province also participate in a project to produce hand soap for their schools.

It is hoped all of these initiatives, which were introduced in direct response to the tsunami, can be scaled up to the national level. UNICEF Chief of Education in Thailand, Rangsun Wiboonuppatum is positive about the outcome.

"That will really have a great impact, not only in these five provinces, but also in the country-wide education system," said Mr.Wiboonuppatum. "A lot of projects show significant impact on the children's lives and also the community."

Teaching hygiene early

Adopting the philosophy that you are never too young to learn, the improvements in sanitation and hygiene have also been extended to pre-schools. At the Ban Triem Early Childhood Development Centre in neighbouring Phang Nga province, 'child- friendly' latrines have been constructed with UNICEF support.

In the brightly decorated and well-equipped latrine, located right next to the classrooms, the toilets and wash basins are all perfectly sized for young children.

For Yupa, age five, it has made the whole school experience a more pleasant one. At the end of classes each day, she is taken home by her elder sisters, Hundnee, age eight, and Hudna, 10. All three sisters now live in a resettlement area set back from the coastline, where their original house was destroyed by the tsunami.

Memories of the tsunami

Elder sister Hudna still vividly remembers the horror of that day. Their father had just finished making breakfast when he saw the wave approaching.

"It came very quickly," Hudna recalls. "Our parents picked us up and carried us, running into the hills."

Thankfully, all of her family survived. Now, because of hygiene improvements at school, she and her siblings can look forward to a brighter and healthier life.