By Indarwati Palembangan, our Senior Project Officer in Tana Toraja.
State Primary School 177 is in Se’seng village in the Tana Toraja district of Sulawesi island in Indonesia. The village lies in a mountainous area prone to landslides. So, back in 2015, schools and community leaders joined teachers, students and parents to join a Safe Schools and Safe Communities project with CWS. With students from 15 other primary schools, School 177 students learned about some of the many risks they faced at school. Risks ranged from how and where to seek safety in case of a sudden onset landslide to how to avoid illness by proper handwashing. So, quite a wide range!
Fortunately, students have not had to use what they learned about protection from landsides. But “now, 5 years later, our teachers and students still wash their hands often with running water and soap”, the headmaster recently said. “Handwashing is a habit for students in our school. They learn the correct 6-steps for proper handwashing with soap from Grade One. We could not have done this without our CWS friends who helped us install water tanks and sinks”.
Fast forward to March 2020 when Tana Toraja decided to close its schools to slow the spread of COVID-19. Because of past CWS partnerships, hundreds of students there, and their families, already knew a key infection prevention strategy: frequent handwashing with soap. Recently, one student, Arceia, said this while talking with a CWS staff member: “Our family feels grateful that CWS helped [us] learn how to properly wash [our] hands”. And one of her parents added, “This is so important [for us to know now] with the spread of COVID-19”.
This family, like millions of others around the world, now know this from government information campaigns. Handwashing helps stop COVID-19 transmission. Fortunately for Arceia’s family, and many families and communities across southeast Asia, they already knew the essential importance of frequent handwashing. And so, they were already protected early on in a very basic way.