Mrs Regina Diergaardt, school principal of the Gobabis Primary School, shares the story of how her school has remained a health promoting school through the years despite numerous challenges.
“I have realized that if we take HPSI seriously, we will see a change in the behaviour of our learners who in return take what they have learned at school back to the society, and together we can promote good health in our communities.”
She alluded to the challenges in implementing the health promoting school initiative but noted that these are not insurmountable with the ‘right mind set’. She shared some of these challenges hoping to motivate other schools to persist in making their schools health promoting.
“The ablution blocks and water pressure were just a nightmare with 1,100 learners of whom the majority don’t have ablution facilities at home. You can imagine what would happen at school outside and around the premises. We were tired and discouraged by children who are doing the opposite of what we taught them. In 2022, we were downgraded from silver to bronze. We were even cautioned that we could lose the bronze as well,” said Mrs Diergaardt.
She mobilized her staff to rally behind the HPSI and although not everyone was fully on board, she forged ahead with her team who committed to implementing the HPSI criteria. The poor rating motivated the school to improve through a few practical and innovative interventions.
The HPSI was introduced in Namibia in 1998 and the MoHSS and MoEAC have been working collaboratively in ensuring that the school health programme is cascaded to all Namibian schools. The Omaheke region is the only region with all of its 47 schools participating in the HPSI. The schools are to meet a set of criteria graded in 4 categories as bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. The bronze level is the elementary level and includes:
- Availability of safe drinking water.
- Sanitation facilities:
- toilet facilities should be maintained in good working order and hygienic
- separate toilets available for use by teachers, boys, and girls.
- toilets with a wash hand basin, running water, soap and a hygienic method of hand drying available (such as paper towels, etc).
- Access to health services and school feeding/food and nutrition services (when possible).
- Skills-based health education for pupils.
- Health-related school policies.
- Development of the school health charter.
- Display of health messages in classrooms, toilets, and notice boards.
- A safe and clean school environment.
- Establish school health clubs, and create a Health Corner in each classroom, library or any place that is accessible to all the learners, teachers, and school personnel.
- School canteens to provide safe nutritious food.
- School nutrition program to be in place.
- Oral health programme to be in place.
The higher categories will include the above, with additional criteria to improve the health and wellbeing of learners and the entire school population.
Every year, the Regional School Health Taskforce will do an assessment to evaluate schools against the set criteria. The recommendations from the internal assessment are then used to improve the school’s performance in ensuring that all criteria are met, and the school either maintains its grade or there is consideration for a higher grade or a downgrade. This process is validated by a team of external evaluators, who are selected from the National School Health Taskforce and/or from other Regional School Health Taskforces.
Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the Omaheke HPSI, this process is a precursor to motiving schools to continue participating in the initiative. Every year, the region organizes a prestigious award ceremony to recognize the efforts and hard work of the schools.
Although Mrs. Diergaardt’s school was downgraded to bronze in the past, this year the school received the platinum award. Despite that fact that the school is situated in one of the impoverished communities in Gobabis, the school health team decided that ‘we could also be a school of excellence in this region, competing against private schools, even if it has to be, challenging schools nationally as well’.
Mrs. Diergaardt said that they needed to identify the challenges and address them. These included learners who were taking toilet paper home, throwing stones in toilet pots, playing with soap, sitting outside whilst ablution facilities are opened, and learners not bathing for days due to their circumstances.
“I assigned our life skills teacher to a few schools in the region, to look at what they are doing, sharing best practices especially with their ablution facilities. She informed me that there are good ideas but with our setup we needed to do a few adjustments and take it step-by-step, being consistent and patient.”
The school board and parents were mobilized to support fundraising efforts to change the image and environment of the schools as part of the school health initiative. “We also agreed to implement the criteria of HPSI, to make it our own and to start with the basics”.
“I realized that once we put our hearts into the HPSI, it’s not a costly process. All we need is committed people with passionate hearts.” She further said that there is a lot that can be done without money especially engaging stakeholders to address and educate learners and staff on different risk factors affecting young people including violence, hygiene, sexual and reproductive health
(SRH) and the use of alcohol and tobacco.
As a result of these effort the school’s wellness committee and health prefects were strengthened and are the driving force behind the success of the school’s health promoting initiative. The school also raised funds to build additional classrooms to ensure that all learners are attending school in the morning hours which resulted in the discontinuation of the afternoon classes. “With the permission of the then Director of Education, Mr. Pecka Semba and in consultation with the Ministry of Works, we built zinc classes, and taught in tents just to ensure that all the learners were coming to school in the morning.” The school observed that the learners who were attending afternoon classes were not performing optimally. “We observed that learners are playing the whole day, and then are dirty and tired when coming to school.”
The school also received funding from a community member who donated bathtubs, toiletries, soaps, and sanitary products to enable learners who are unable to bath at home, to do so at school.
“We changed the image of the school by re painting the school, making the environment attractive and friendly. Today, as I am speaking, everyone is on board and happy to be associated with Gobabis Primary School.”
She proudly commended her teaching and support staff and some parents for their level of commitment which contributed immensely to a clean, healthy, and germ-free environment.
WHO together with UNESCO, UNFPA and UNICEF has been supporting the school health programme at all levels. Through this support an MoU between the two lead ministries is in place with a functional coordination mechanism at both national and regional levels. Trainings to facilitate the implementation of the school health programme in all 14 regions have been provided and although the effectiveness of the programme differs in the different regions, there is interest from most regions to have the HPSI implemented as part of the school health programme.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of WHO Regional Office for Africa.