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“One hand washes the other” – UNICEF’s #LittleHandsMatter campaign is fighting the spread of coronavirus in communities across South Africa, one handwashing station at a time.

Construction continues in a village in the Eastern Cape.

Only two-thirds of households in South Africa have access to handwashing facilities with soap [1]. In rural areas, and in many of the under-resourced informal settlements in South Africa’s metropoles, the lack of access to water and soap poses a serious challenge in curbing the spread of COVID-19. In response, through UNICEF’s #LittleHandsMatter campaign, the construction of 250 handwashing stations is underway across the country – bringing water to where it is needed most.

The stations, marked with signage to encourage social distancing, are providing much-needed clean water to vulnerable communities in various parts of South Africa. In what has been a rapid emergency response to increase access to hand hygiene, UNICEF, together with South African contractor, Envirosan, have, as of 20 May, installed 19 units with a further 231 set to be built in every province over the coming weeks.

When UNICEF launched the #LittleHandsMatter campaign on the 19th of March, it was hard to imagine that it would make such a big impact. The online campaign reached out to thousands of individuals and hundreds of companies with requests for donations towards a simple goal: raising US$10,800 to build 10 hygiene handwashing stations in under-resourced communities across South Africa.

By the end of the campaign, on the 10th of May, through an incredible show of donor support in South Africa and across the globe, it was clear that the initial goals had been far surpassed with more than US$13,500 raised through individual donations alone. South African health insurance provider, Discovery Vitality matched the US$3,250 raised by their members and together with the generous donations from Unilever, Puma, Orbia and USAID, at least 250 handwashing stations are now set for construction across all 9 provinces of South Africa.

“When the first traces of the coronavirus were recorded in South Africa, a big concern of ours was how to address the threat of infection in densely populated areas and in areas without running water,” says UNICEF South Africa Fundraising Specialist, Fernanda Pereira Bochembuzo. “The outpouring of support from companies and individuals across the country has been humbling and has meant that we’ve had to drastically scale up our response,” she adds.

By drawing on UNICEF’s existing work on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), the original plan was to build handwashing stations close to schools, giving children access to clean hand hygiene throughout the country. However, with the national lockdown closing schools, this was no longer an option and the focus shifted to bringing clean water to communities, and closer to children’s homes.

With soap and water being one of the most effective measures against the spread of COVID-19, the generous contributions of South Africans and people around the world are showing that the old ethos – “one hand washes the other” – is about a lot more than just hygiene.