Each year, about 3.5 million children die before their 5th birthday due to preventable diseases, mainly diarrhea and acute respiratory diseases. According to survey data from the Global School-based Student Health Survey, over 15 percent of schoolchildren in some countries say they rarely or never wash their hands before eating.
Those facts spurred a group of Newtown High School student to action. They participated in the World Health Organization’s Touching Lives School Talent International Contest. The one-minute educational video they produced was selected by a jury of international experts as the winning entry in the middle/high school age category (age 10-16) and was the only United States-based entry to win its category.
The Newtown Public Health class submitted the video at the start of the school year, and it was selected this fall among the winners in various age categories. Their video now appears on the website of the Pan American Health Organization, and has begun to appear on other public health websites, including the Connecticut Public Health Association. It was designed, written and produced in the opening weeks of school, just prior to the mid-September entry deadline.
Experts point out that “just rinsing your hands is not washing.” In order for hands to be clean, soap and water must be used, for at least 20 seconds. Handwashing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal and acute respiratory infections. Together, they are responsible for the majority of all child deaths, officials report.
Turning handwashing with soap before eating and after using the toilet into an ingrained habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter, experts predict. They also point out that a vast change in handwashing behavior is critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.
The educational video is preceded with the words “A Message from Newtown High School’s Public Health Class” filling the screen. It then begins with a male student gently singing over a strumming guitar, reminding viewers of the importance of hand-washing in rhyming lyrics, including urging viewers to “always think, 20 seconds at the sink.” The video then features a variety of voices repeating “20 seconds” in nearly a dozen world languages. It concludes by suggesting “don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution.”
The video was edited by Amylee Anyoha. Students in the Newtown High Public Health Class included Jess Amante, Maddie Erhardt, Enea Musaka, Sarah Craig, Kelly O’Connell, Chris Beaurline, Sydney Allen, Gabby Durkin, Tim Krapf, Amanda Paige, Taylor Strolli and Heather McKeown.
In the 2013 #TouchingLives School Talent International Contest, students could work individually or in a group, and all the countries in the Americas, were eligible and encouraged to develop songs, videos, illustrations, written compositions or any other expression of art promoting hand washing. The contest was, according to organizers, “about giving your personal touch to change the world.”