Rapid COVID-19 hygiene responses made possible by five factors
Pamoja Tuangamiza corona (Together, we can eradicate corona) is the motivational slogan of Nakuru's local government and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in their long struggle with the coronavirus. For Bendy Kipchoge and Reinilde Eppinga, the concept of 'together' had been critical in embedding hygiene practice in Nakuru's schools. This blog reflects on the top five factors that helped SNV and its partners engage in rapid COVID-19 response in schools in Nakuru and three other counties.
For the occasion of Global Handwashing Day 2021, representatives from the local government, civil society and SNV gathered at the Mercy Njeri Primary School to inaugurate its new handwashing facility and distribute soap. Mercy Njeri is one of 15 schools in Nakuru that received facility support from the Netherlands government-funded WASH First programme, implemented by SNV, Water Alliance International (WAI) and Plan Nederland.
Handwashing facilities and soap for distribution in schools
Reinilde and Bendy get organised for the facility hand over
1 Long-term, in-country presence of organisations
'You can't deploy development projects in Nakuru just like that,' said Reinilde. She added, 'we've had a seven-year strong relationship (since 2013) with the county government and public health officers in Nakuru, and this enabled our rapid response in the city.'
For Bendy, these ties strengthened SNV's relationship with influential COVID-19 movers and shakers in Nakuru, such as Mary Mucheru. Mary has been serving as a public health officer in Nakuru for over 28 years and as county school WASH coordinator for 13 years. A facilitator of SNV's training of trainers in hygiene sensitisation campaigns, when the government released its COVID-19 prevention protocols and guidelines, SNV staff, with Mary and 16 other public health officers and curriculum support officers cascaded these protocols in 100 schools, training over 1,000 teaching and non-teaching personnel.
Mary is the primary mover and shaker behind the selection of schools in Nakuru most in need of external support. Through Mary, WASH First was able to prioritise schools with the greatest need.
2 Multiple donors supportive of continuity in approaches
WASH First's hygiene COVID-19 actions benefited from SNV's more than ten years of experience applying its Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (SSH4A) approach. Reinilde explained that, among others, SSH4A methods were adopted to mobilise community volunteers to promote good hand hygiene to households – through door-to-door campaigns. The most recent programme that applied SSH4A in Kenya was financed by UKAID as part of the UK Government's largest results-based funding programme for WASH. To date, SNV's rural sanitation approach is being implemented in several countries in Africa and Asia, including Benin (Dutch funding), Bhutan and Lao PDR (Australian funding) and Mozambique (UK funding).
3 Agile approaches for relevance
Schools have always been a key institutional target audience for SNV behavioural change programmes. Bendy explained that it has been common practice to work directly with teaching staff and create student/teacher-led health clubs for hygiene. For WASH First, the severity and pace by which COVID-19 was spreading prompted stakeholders – including SNV – to review their methods. From this process emerged a decision to expand the sensitisation process to include non-teaching personnel. She added, 'Engaging non-teaching personnel in hygiene and sensitisation trainings significantly increased the reach of our programme messages. Non-teaching staff took part in the responsibility to refill handwashing facilities with water and soap, ensure the cleanliness of sanitation facilities (e.g., toilets), and supervise children to wash their hands before eating. Because non-teaching staff are likely to have families to go home to, they too were critical in trickling down good hygiene behaviour within their communities.'
Together against COVID-19 at the Bugar primary school
Together against COVID-19 at the Iten School for the Deaf
4 Engaged civil society networks
Evidence-based advocacy strategies learnt from the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme were replicated in neighbouring Nakuru from Kericho, Elgeyo Marakwet, and Homa Bay counties. The know-how to conduct rapid assessments before WASH First implementation and regular engagement in weekly monitoring and decision-making meetings made it possible for the WASH First team to take quick yet concerted actions. According to Reinilde, 'Working through civil society organisations (CSOs) enabled us to have representatives in all sub-counties, quickly collect information from all parts of the county, and spread accurate information across the counties. Working through local CSOs also helped us gain the community's trust, especially when misinformation and disinformation are rampant.' The V4CP programme was financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands as part of its Dissent and Dialogue strategic partnerships programme.
5 Active partnerships
If given the necessary tools and knowledge, people are most likely to jump on the opportunity to be the change. To illustrate, Bendy highlighted that 10 of the 15 schools put up makeshift handwashing with soap facilities immediately after being trained in hand hygiene and COVID-19 prevention strategies. Many school administrations understood the urgency of the matter and put up their own facilities, using local materials, while waiting for sturdier handwashing facilities to be delivered by WASH First and other partners.
To conclude, Bendy and Reinilde’s reflections point to the importance of being together in the struggle against COVID-19. Many global leaders expressed the need for deepened collaboration to reduce the spread of COVID-19. And many around the world responded. But beyond that, COVID-19 also showed the world that there is no other option but to be more prepared. As members of the WASH First consortium programme emphasise, ‘prevention is better than the cure.’ That said, even if the world wins over COVID-19, the sector and the world’s leaders have an important role to play to ensure that we’re better prepared for similar crises in the future.
Written by: Anjani Abella, based on conversation with Bendy Kipchoge and Reinilde Eppinga
Photos: All photos by SNV Kenya staff | About the banner photo: Handwashing and water containment facilities set up at Mercy Njeri Primary School. Artwork on handwashing facility shows the stepwise process of properly washing hands with soap to trigger better recall.
 For more information on SNV’s completed advocacy programme, see V4CP research studies and cross-sectoral/multi-country stories of change
 As part of SNV’s ongoing efforts to strengthen and ensure the relevance of its behavioural change communication strategies, INGOs, CSOs and government leaders were convened for the multi-disciplinary learning event, Sustaining behavioural change in a pandemic. Proceedings available here.