By: Agustin Caceres
The sun rose over the mountains in Huixtán, Chiapas, and like every morning, students woke up to attend Benito Juárez Primary School. But when the students arrived, they realized this would not be an average school day. State health workers dressed up to represent a larger than life water drop, hand, and soap bar welcomed students on the playground. The party had started.
As part of the social mobilization campaign of an NTD project in Mexico supported by the Inter-American Development Bank, students participated in a pilot program that integrate health education about NTDs, basic hygiene activities, games and the projection of movies.
A team of health workers speaking in Tzeltal, one of the local indigenous languages, split the excited kids into groups. Younger students in first and second grades started the morning learning the basics of the SAFE strategy (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental change) With the help of the larger than life representations of hand, soap, and water the health workers conducted a workshop on hand and face washing to prevent soil-transmitted helminthes and trachoma -a disease that can cause blindness, still present in rural communities of this Mexican state.
Meanwhile, fifth and sixth graders participated in presentations about these and other NTDs, including Chagas diseases and leishmaniasis, conducted both in Spanish and Tzeltal. The students learned about the ways these diseases are transmitted, symptoms, and prevention measures such as identifying the tick responsible for transmiting the parasite that causes Chagas in their homes. Over 120 cases of this disease are diagnosed in Chiapas every year.
“We try to make learning about NTDs fun for the kids in these communities. We tailor the messages and the activities to the different age groups and to their cultural context” said Dr. Janet Morales, State Coordinator for Chagas and Leishmaniasis of the Chiapas Health Institute. “We believe that working with these kids is highly effective. While they are playing and having a good time, they learn about NTDs and then transmit all this information to their parents at home, educating their own communities”.
Once these activities came to an end, the students received crayons and coloring books with games and drawings about good habits for preventing these diseases. As a part of the planned activities, the kids spend the end of the day watching a movie, eating popcorn, and unwinding after all these fun but tiring activities. The movie was part of the Rural Cinema Route which takes the magic of cinema to remote communities where kids don´t have access to this type of entertainment. This activity was put on by one of the partners of the project, Fundación Cinépolis. “Ending the health education activities in this festive manner makes kids think of NTDs with a different perspective. Preventing them is up to them, and it can be fun” said Dr. Morales.
One thing is clear: the kids of Huixtán will surely remember this day for a long time to come.
View more photographs from the Rural Cinema Route here.