Ibuka gukaraba!

"Ibuka gukaraba," read the students in unison. Remember to wash your hands. Thirty pairs of hands clapped together and lathered pretend soap. As a class, they practiced proper hand-washing technique. 

April storm clouds hovered over the hills of up-country Burundi, but the sun still shone through the windows of the classroom. Students in beige uniforms leaned forward on their shared wood-plank desks.

Fresh from a two-week vacation, the students had filed into class to begin their new term with a health lesson from the IMO team. Even curious children without uniforms gathered in the doorways and open windows.

They learned about germs: how these tiny microscopic organisms can travel from the fields to their fingers and food and, eventually, into their body. They also learned how to prevent the spread of these germs, that open defecation increases the prevalence of this spread, and when and how to properly wash their hands.  

Some had heard the lesson the year before and were eager to answer questions; others listened with fresh ears – gaining insights which they would potentially go home to teach their brothers, sisters, and even parents. The insights may be simple, even to the youngest primary schoolers. Even so, the basic knowledge is the first step to leading healthy lives. 

Story and photos by Austin M. Price