Malaysia: Putting good health into practice

In the heart of Sabah, 120 children recently learnt valuable lessons on good health and hygiene practices as part of an ICRC initiated project at St Theresa School, Penampang.

Taking into consideration the main challenges of the area, the ICRC and the Malaysian Red Crescent worked with the state Health Department as well as the school to develop targeted educational sessions, helping to improve the health situation in the district. In particular, the programmes designed aim to address essential good health practices, which when implemented could potentially stem the spread of waterborne and communicable diseases.

"This is the first school in our pilot Health and Hygiene project. We have started with the Penampang and Putatan districts, but we're hoping to replicate this across Sabah, particularly in rural areas though our work with the Health Department and our partner – Malaysian Red Crescent" explained Dominic Earnshaw, Head of ICRC's office in Sabah. He added: "It is our hope that this educational activity will create awareness among children about proper hygiene practices and potential diseases, as well as motivating students to always take preventive actions".

With 120 students watching, four Malaysian Red Cross (MRC) volunteers performed a role play, acting two different scenarios on stage. One group played a family with poor hygiene habits, while the other group played a family with good hygiene habits. After the short performance, Samantha Richard, Rosieni Gumat, Lynnie Ronnie and Lim Mei Ling from the MRC Penampang Chapter led 10 student "actors" in demonstrating good and bad hygiene practices at home.

MRC volunteers showing bad hygiene practices. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Aaron Kual

The crowd showed their enthusiasm for the performances, cheering when the "good family" demonstrated good hygiene practices, while the "bad family" were greeted with heckles and jeers – all in good spirits. While the students enjoyed the experience, they also learnt valuable lessons in proper hygiene practices. In a Q&A session that followed, every question was answered correctly and immediately after, one student went immediately to the school canteen to ask for soap before eating his meal.

Ms Lau Shuk Man, St Theresa's Red Crescent teacher was impressed by the level of participation and enthusiasm showed by the students. "I think that this was an excellent event for the students, giving them guidelines for proper practices, which they will hopefully share with their families".

Lau worked with the ICRC and MRC to coordinate the event, noting that there are 56 MRC members at St Theresa's. "Members normally meet for an hour every week, learning about the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the Fundamental Principles and basic first aid. As part of the extra-curricular activities, the Red Cross society meets every Wednesday after school. Small initiatives are organised by the children themselves. In fact, following today's activity, we're looking at establishing health and hygiene committees in each class, ensuring that the lessons learnt today are put into practice", explained Lau.