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Children teaching children: a lesson from a childhood friend

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I learnt very early in life that childhood friends have the power to change each other’s lives positively. In a world where peer pressure is often viewed in a negative light, it is easy to overlook the merits of positive peer influence.

I grew up in a compound house in Accra, where I learned some of my biggest lessons, mostly from friends. Take Aku, for instance. She was special. She and her mother moved into the compound house we lived in when I was about nine years old. Within four years, they had moved out, but the impression she left on me is one of the reasons I am where I am today.

Aku was a reader. She didn’t join us while we ran around on the field or engaged in idle gossip. She spent most of her time with her face buried in books. When I look back, I realize that there was never really a time when she did not have a book close by, whether she was waiting for a pot of soup to boil or just sitting outside in the compound.

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I watched her closely and I was very intrigued, wondering what she saw in the books, curious as to why she chose them over playing with us. And little by little, I started to turn into a reader as well. I saved money to buy secondhand books, hoping to impress her with titles she hadn’t read before. She knew things a person living in a rundown portion of Accra had no business knowing. And this made me want so much to be like her.

This kind of positive peer influence is the basis for the Lifebuoy Chief Education Officer Initiative, which is aimed at achieving Lifebuoy’s goal of encouraging good hand hygiene habits among children. By leveraging the power of peer-to-peer education, Lifebuoy is starting a movement that can bring change to the community from within the classroom.

In 2020, Lifebuoy launched the H for Handwashing campaign to transform the letter H into a symbol for handwashing, and to integrate hygiene awareness into the school curriculum. In 2021, it launched a children’s alphabet book titled ‘H is for Handwashing’, which was intended to support school curricula all over the world wherever children are taught the ABCs.

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In celebration of Global Handwashing Day this year, Lifebuoy is passing on the behavior-change baton to the next generation through the CEO initiative, so that they can teach their peers about the how and why of handwashing. For a duration of 10 hours spread over a 12-month period, two selected children will help spread the message of handwashing with soap to their peers, both at school and at home.

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After Aku and her mother moved out of the compound house that we shared, we lost touch. But Aku’s influence had changed me. Just as I learnt new life-changing habits from Aku, I believe that the Lifebuoy Chief Education Officer (CEO) Initiative will sow the seeds of hand hygiene habits that will save the lives of a generation. I believe in the power of change through peers. And I believe that through the Lifebuoy Chief Education Officer (CEO) Initiative, we can raise a generation of children who influence others positively, just like my friend Aku did with me.

Global Handwashing Day is a universal handwashing campaign celebrated on the 15th of October every year to motivate and mobilize people worldwide to improve their handwashing habits by washing hands with soap and water at critical points during the day.

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