Before the COVID-19 outbreak, 7 out of 10 schools worldwide did not have basic handwashing facilities. Half of them lacked basic water and sanitation services. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this situation affected 295 million children threatening their health and school performance*. But even when schools have access to handwashing facilities, pupils will not automatically practice good hygiene habits, such as washing their hands or using soap at critical times.
From 2012 to 2019, Football for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (F4WASH) challenged this situation in Mozambique, Kenya and Ghana. Through the programme, almost 470,000 children from 745 schools received football-based life skills education and got access to WASH facilities. They improved their hygiene and handwashing habits and became champions of these good practices within their families, peers and communities.
Inclusion, empowerment and sustainability
F4WASH succeeded in achieving positive hygiene behaviour change among school children and their communities. It also advanced inclusion and girls’ empowerment. Sanitation facilities at schools included facilities for children with disabilities and changing rooms and menstrual hygiene facilities for girls. The programme also promoted girls’ participation in sports. All of this led to improved school attendance and performance of girls.
F4WASH tackled the sustainability challenge of WASH in School (WinS) programmes by strengthening and developing local systems to operate and maintain WASH services involving multiple actors including government and private sector. Local involvement and ownership stimulate commitment of the (local) authorities, community and school management.
Why football and WASH?
The love for football, or sports in general, is a powerful driver of positive behaviour change and healthy habits, which has been widely recognised. In F4WASH we showed that using football as a vehicle to achieve healthy behaviour proved to be effective in bridging the gap between knowledge on hygiene and actual sustainable hygienic behaviour.
Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in schools promotes a healthier environment which facilitates learning. The physical environment and cleanliness of a school and its WASH facilities contributed to reducing the number of incidences of water and sanitation-related diseases among children significantly. As pupils did not miss school due to illness or menstruation their school attendance and performance improved.
And football? F4WASH used the passion for the game to engage pupils, their families and peers in the programme. Football brought fun, fitness and discipline into life skills education. It had a positive effect on motivation and memory retention, which supported adopting life skills and healthy habits.
The rules of the game
1. Team sport
F4WASH believes in the power of teamwork to achieve goals and win the game! The team spirit of sports helped children to retain new hygiene practices they had learned as a team. As a result, school boys and girls practised healthy habits, such as using latrines and washing their hands at critical times.
Female and male coaches were selected from school teachers and community members. They had excellent football skills and knowledge about health and hygiene. Good coaches were critical as they became role models for the children. By showing good hygiene practices, they informed, motivated, and inspired the children to do the same.
F4WASH provided training on cost recovery and business skills to all local stakeholders. Schools their surrounding stakeholders were challenged to establish business models for operations and management of the WASH facilities. School staff were encouraged to bring up suggestions for income generation activities using schools’ assets like the facilities, energy, land, or water without compromising their primary education purposes. This increased local ownership and commitment while decreasing donor dependency. By promoting an entrepreneurial spirit, the sustainability of the programme results can be significantly improved.