Nurse helps school kids come clean

13 October 2003

Cleaning up: Sister Rozanne Bihl is helping to empower children at a local primary school.

Nursing student Sister Rozanne Bihl, a stomatherapy nurse at the Red Cross Memorial Children's Hospital, is helping children at a south Peninsula primary school help themselves.

Bihl and the young learners at Hillwood Primary School in Lavender Hill, one of the poorest residential areas in the Cape Metropolitan Area (CMA), are starting a full-time health programme at the school. Hillwood has set aside a classroom from where learners - with occasional assistance from Bihl - run a hygiene centre, equipped with everything from soap to toothpaste.

Here learners are encouraged to make use of these items, sometimes not available at their homes.

The project springs from a talk on personal hygiene that Bihl, as part of her BNursing Communicating Health to Children module, gave at the school in June this year. After a chat with Hillwood's principal, Rachel Claasen, she then decided that the children needed something more than a one-off presentation.

"A lot of the children go to school unwashed, because they don't really know even the basics of hygiene," noted Bihl.

Bihl was inspired in part, she said, by the Children's Resource Centre (CRC) in Rondebosch, specifically the organisation's Child-to-Child Health Programme that aims to educate children to understand and deal with the health problems that they face daily. The CRC sets up school health centres that are steered by elected executives - learners - who teach each other and their classmates about health matters, touching on everything from personal hygiene to the environment.

Even more moving, added Bihl, was watching seven- and eight-year olds at the CRC's centre at Wespoort Primary School in Mitchell's Plain - which Bihl and some of her fellow students visited - teach their friends about washing and first aid, Bihl said. "We students just sort of looked at these children and thought, wow, we don't even know some of this stuff."

As the CRC does at its centres, Bihl hopes that the Hillwood facility will empower its young patrons.

"It's not the teachers or the CRC who teach the children - it's the children themselves. And I think they learn more when they learn from each other.

"All schools should have programmes like this."

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