When kids save lives: Handwashing education across generations in Niger

Written by Judith Lenti/NCBA CLUSA

Raya Sidaji demonstrates a “tippy tap” for her neighbors. Operated by a foot lever, Tippy Taps provide handwashing stations in rural areas without running water.Raya Sidaji demonstrates a “tippy tap” for her neighbors. Operated by a foot lever, Tippy Taps provide handwashing stations in rural areas without running water.Raya Sidaji demonstrates a “tippy tap” for her neighbors. Operated by a foot lever, Tippy Taps provide handwashing stations in rural areas without running water.When Ziley Idi, a 51-year-old grandmother, participated in a handwashing training, she learned that poor hygiene habits spread disease and that, by properly washing hands, a person can prevent their spread and ultimately save lives.

“I learned the right gestures and the recommended hand motions to make. I was very convinced,” Ziley said. But the best advocates for handwashing in the family and community are not elders like Ziley.

In Gourgouzou Village in Niger's Zinder Region, handwashing has become a lesson not from parents to children, but from children to parents.

Handwashing is a simple gesture that can significantly reduce the transmission of diseases, especially diarrhea and its acute forms, dysentery and cholera. Encouraging people to wash their hands with soap several times a day is a key focus of NCBA CLUSA’s REGIS-ER project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the RISE Initiative. Hygiene and sanitation are key to improving health and enhancing the resilience of vulnerable populations in the Niger and broader Sahel regions.

Global Handwashing Day, celebrated annually on October 15, raises awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an easy, effective and affordable way to prevent disease and save lives. 

Ziley’s 13-year-old daughter, Raya Siraji, learned about the importance of handwashing with her mother, but she became the hygiene ambassador in her village and beyond. Raya taught her neighbors and classmates how to install and use a simple handwashing device called a Tippy Tap. Now students and even other households often ask her to come and demonstrate Tippy Tap set up and practice.

“She became famous all over the village and she really contributed to behavior change. I’m so proud of her,” Ziley said.

But it wasn’t just Raya; Ziley's grandson was also promoting healthy habits.

“At home, my 6-year-old grandson has already taken over! I attended handwashing training meetings with him and he remembered everything. One day, I saw him calling his grandfather back because he didn’t wash his hands after using the bathroom,” Riley said with a laugh. Her grandson is now the local hygiene and sanitation "police," convincing even his grandfather to adopt a new habit.

It takes a whole community, however small, to strengthen healthy habits. And cross-generation communication can prove efficient for behavior change and health enhancement.