A recent news article in Sunday Guardian reported that half the children in India between 0-6 years of age have no access to preschool or childcare centers. The article also mentioned that, “malnutrition, poor sanitation, disease, and other health concerns pose significant obstacles for children as they strive to become productive members of society.” So the big question remains - Is academic education alone enough to promote the health of underprivileged children?
In an effort to address this concern, one of our key partners in our childhood education and development projects in India, the Door Step School (DSS) initiated the “Teach Them Young” program. This initiative aims to build awareness of hygiene and sanitation among children and teach them healthy practices at an early age so that they become ingrained in their daily lives as they grew.
It was observed that during the meal period in schools, children ate in open surroundings unhygienic and unfit for food consumption, such as crowded classrooms, school porches and dusty playgrounds. The children were also not in the habit of washing their hands before eating. The solution would be for the schools to actively monitor these meal periods for adherence to healthy eating practices.
First, DSS identified a few schools in Pune (India), where there was a need for such monitoring of eating practices. Each of these schools was then provided with a dedicated monitor during lunch hours who would designate areas for eating such as common halls, or any covered places in the premises. The plan was also shared with the teachers. Before starting a meal, the premises would be cleaned and the monitor would ensure that all children washed their hands, sat in uniform lines and said a prayer. During meal time, the monitor would instruct children on appropriate eating practices so as not to spill and waste food. Food servers were trained to ensure organized serving and containment of food portions. After meal-time, the monitor would once again supervise all children during their hand-washing routine, and the premises would be cleaned of spillages and left-overs.
There has been a positive response from the children and the teachers since the initiative was introduced. The program only covered children from grades 1-4 initially, but was soon able to expand and involve grades 5-7. The program will soon expand to other schools, with an additional component involving parent education so that these habits are instilled in children not only during school-time but also at home.
This is a small step towards a more holistic approach to spreading education and awareness, no longer limited to academics. Last year World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim made a very valid remark about changing mindsets about sanitation - “It’s not just about building toilets,” Kim said. “Having toilets is great. But the real issue is behavior change.” And thus DSS found the right path to begin this movement of changing mindset at the right age with “Teach them Young”– Childhood!