Elmo delivers life-saving messages on clean water, hygiene and sanitation

An old friend from Sesame Street is partnering with World Vision to spread the word about the importance of clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

Tickle-Me Elmo toys help children create life-long change

From southern Africa to the Middle East, a generous donation of Tickle-Me Elmo toys from HeadStart International is helping to bring life-saving lessons about clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to children and their families.

An incredible 10,000 Elmo toys have now been delivered to schools, health centres and Child Friendly Spaces in Zambia, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Thanks to the generosity of HeadStart International, Elmo toys are being integrated to support the WASH-UP! initiative, led by World Vision and Sesame Workshop.

In the Choongo district of southern Zambia, the Grade 5 classroom of Mandondo Primary School is abuzz with colour and excitement. The students are smiling and laughing as they take part in their weekly WASH-UP! class, with Tickle-Me Elmo toys donated by HeadStart International.

In today’s WASH-UP! lesson, the students are learning about the importance of handwashing – a simple intervention with life-saving potential. “I don’t miss class anymore because Elmo toys have made my learning exciting,” says 12-year-old Nachoombe. “I like Elmo because he helps us know the importance of practising good sanitation and hygiene to keep us healthy.”

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The vibrant Tickle-Me Elmo toys are placed at various learning stations around the classroom and are used to deliver key messages around hygiene and sanitation. Today, Elmo is helping the students to understand the importance of handwashing with soap to prevent the transmission of diseases. 

Nachoombe’s teacher, Mr Nabuyanda, is amazed at how the delivery of Elmo toys has transformed classroom learning.

“The Elmo toys have sparked interest in the students to attend lessons and pay attention. We have seen so much improvement in students’ performance,” he says.

Over the past few weeks, the Tickle-Me Elmo toys have helped the children of Mandondo Primary School to learn critical behaviours such as wearing sandals to go to the toilet and safe water storage. “Students have started wearing shoes for hygiene’s sake, unlike in the past,” says Mr Nabuyanda. “They wash their hands after using the toilet without anyone reminding them, because they now know the importance of sanitation and hygiene.”

Children have also been encouraged to take healthy habits home and teach their parents and siblings, increasing the program’s impact. “The students have influenced their communities by telling their parents to put handwashing facilities near the toilets and have rubbish pits,” says Mr Nabuyanda.

For Nachoombe and her friends, the delivery of Elmo toys has brought much laughter and fun to their lessons about clean water and improved sanitation and hygiene. “We love to learn about sanitation and hygiene with Elmo. I don’t get sick ... like I did in the past,” she explains happily.

Nachoombe dreams of one day being a nurse, and with the help of Elmo, she’s learning important lessons to carry into her future.

On behalf of the children of Mandondo Primary School and thousands of others across Zambia, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq, we would like to thank HeadStart International. Your generous donation of Tickle-Me Elmo toys has brought colour, joy and excitement to classrooms around the world, and is helping to deliver life-saving messages to children and their communities. 

About WASH-UP!

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The WASH-UP! initiative aims to reduce the number of young children contracting preventable and treatable diseases by providing access to meaningful WASH education.

Since 2015, World Vision and Sesame Workshop have teamed up to bring WASH-UP! to communities, through videos, play mats, books, and songs.

By harnessing the power of both organisations – Sesame Workshop as the largest informal educator of children in the world and World Vision as the leading non-governmental provider of clean drinking water in the developing world – the partnership delivers critical health lessons tailored to the specific needs of vulnerable populations.

Across 15 countries, Elmo and his friend Raya are pioneering conversations about clean water, handwashing with soap and proper latrine use. With the help of Elmo, we have the unique ability to engage with children, model behaviours, and share important information about health and sanitation.

The WASH-UP! key learnings

Fun is “sticky”

Kids respond best when they’re having fun while they learn. Delivering hygiene and sanitation behaviour-change messages within games and colourful toys encourages learning to “stick”, with greater engagement and retention. And there’s something magical about Sesame Street – when children learn something from their friends Elmo and Raya, they’re more likely to take their messages about healthy habits to heart. Emotional drivers are powerful motivators and can have a lasting impact on a person’s behaviour and the development of good habits.

Children are change agents

At World Vision, we know that children can be powerful agents of positive change in communities. Because of this, a critical part of our WASH program includes outreach to schools. We’ve learned that children can not only receive important messages about healthy habits, but they can also deliver these messages effectively to their brothers, sisters and parents. By doing this, they can dramatically change the health of a community.

Simple habits, transformative impact

Handwashing, drinking clean water, wearing sandals to the toilet – with the right infrastructure in place, children have the decision-making power to practice each of these simple actions, and these simple actions can have measurable impact on child health outcomes. Proper hygiene is an easy, effective, and affordable “do-it-yourself vaccine” that prevents infections and saves lives. When it comes to behaviour change, the simplest interventions can be the best.

The right partnership goes a long way

By leveraging Sesame Workshop’s proven experience in WASH education alongside World Vision’s global commitment to community relationships and improved infrastructure, the WASH-UP! initiative has the potential to reach and positively impact millions of children around the world. Since our partnership began in 2015, we’ve reached over 50,000 children in Zambia alone!

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You could help to make it all happen

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