More than 50 monks and nuns from five monastic institutions observed the Global Handwashing Day at Phochu Dumra Lobda in Punakha yesterday.

WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) officer with UNICEF, Sonam Gyaltshen said that global handwashing day is observed in monastic schools since last year because it was found that compared to other schools, the monastics schools have poor sanitation.

“Sanitation and hygiene in monastic schools have improved in recent years but they still need support to promote hygienic behaviour especially among child monks and nuns,” Sonam Gyaltshen said. “There are incidences of skin diseases like scabies and fungal infection in monastic schools.”

Punakha dzongkhag health officer, Dechenmo, said fungal infection among monks and nuns is common in the dzongkhag.

UNICEF works with religious bodies and senior monks in the country who have significant influence on the practices in the monasteries and nunneries as well as on the general public’s way of life, Sonam Gyaltshen added.

While the celebration of handwashing day globally started in 2008 to encourage children, teachers and families to get involved and spread messages on the importance of handwashing with soap, Bhutan started observing the day since 2010.

Sonam Gyaltshen said the annual event is now institutionalised and observed in many schools in the country.

A nun from Wolakha nunnery, Dorji Lham, 38, said that following visit by health officials, she is now aware of the importance of improving water, sanitation and hygiene and why people should wash their hands with soap.

She said traditionally people in villages have the habit of cleaning their hands with a ball of rice instead of washing hands, which is unhygienic. But now, with awareness and education people wash hands at least before meals.

“When I was in the village, I knew that we have to wash our hands before we eat but I didn’t know that it’s important that we use soap,” Dorji Lham said.

Gyetsho Lopen Kuenga, who was the chief guest, said improving health, hygiene, and sanitation is important to keep one healthy. “Better physical and mental health aids students to grow productively and holistically. Just washing your hand with soap can prevent you from various diseases.”

The monks of Shengana Nepa Gonpa, Kabisa Choeten Ningpo, Phochu Dumra Lobda and Khuruthang monastic schools, and nuns of Wolakha nunnery displayed their handwashing posters and station designs as part of the event.

Wolakha nunnery bagged the first prize for poster competition while Kabisa Chorten Ningpo monastic school won the handwashing station design.

Manager with the Religion and Health Project of Dratshang Lhentshog, Pema Gyaltshen said the day is observed to increase awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.

A monk from Phochu Dumra Lobda, Tandin Dorji, 17, said during the last two weeks of pre-global handwashing day celebration, he learned about handwashing with soap. “This is new knowledge for me.”

The theme this year is, ‘Our Hands, Our future,” which reminds people that handwashing protects health and builds futures.

The Religion and Health Project organised the event with technical and financial assistance from UNICEF and SNV.

Dechen Tshomo | Punakha