A Germ's Journey travels to Africa to teach young children about hand hygiene

Schoolchildren in Sierra Leone, West Africa, are learning how hand hygiene can help prevent germs from spreading thanks to a new book created by researchers at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU). 

The brainchild of education expert Professor Sarah Younie and microbiologist Dr Katie Laird, the ‘Germ’s Journey’ series is a collection of learning resources designed to raise awareness of the importance of handwashing. 

Following a research trip to the city of Makeni in Sierra Leone in 2019, funded by GCRF (Global Challenges Research Fund), Professor Younie and Dr Laird decided to develop a special edition of the original book, featuring culturally relevant images, language and references for young children in West Africa. 

GJ West Africa Edition

The new edition was officially launched at a special event hosted in partnership with the University of Makeni, attended by representatives from the Ministry of Secondary Education in Sierra Leone, the Mayor of Makeni City Council, representatives from the Teaching Commission and the Vice Chancellor of the university. 

Following the launch, 1,000 copies have been shipped out to local schools in the region, with the DMU researchers providing training for teachers on how to use the book as a learning tool. 

“Visiting Sierra Leone with the Germs Journey team last year and being hosted by the University of Makeni was a fantastic experience for us all,” said Professor Younie.  

“Working collaboratively with the local teachers and children helped us to understand how best our resources could be adapted for them. Seeing them come to fruition in the book has been a very rewarding experience for everyone involved.” 

GJ Makeni (5)

Sapphire Crosby, a PhD Education student at DMU who has been working with Professor Younie and Dr Laird for a couple of years since writing her Master’s dissertation on the project, also took part in the research trip. 

She said: “We spent a week in Makeni, visiting local schools and working with the University of Makeni to work out what educational resources were lacking. We hosted workshops and focus groups with teachers and pupils and we also met with the local mayor and representatives from the teaching commission to hear their thoughts. 

“Sierra Leone was hit heavily by the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and so infection prevention is key out there. When visiting the children in Makeni it was clear that while they knew how to wash their hands, they did not always understand the reasons why.” 

GJ Makeni (1)

A Germ’s Journey was initially published in2017 to communicate the importance of handwashing at a young age, following extensive research by Dr Laird, head of the Infectious Disease Research Group, and Professor Younie,  Education, Innovation and Technology.  

The book includes illustrations which feature special thermochromic black paint and once the child’s hand is placed upon the paint, the microbes present appear on the hands in the book and the black paint vanishes. 

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“The new edition for West Africa follows the same concept as the original, only it has been adapted to help the children there to relate,” continued Sapphire. “For example, a key consideration in West Africa is to make sure that the water is safe to use, which isn’t something we necessarily think about in the UK.” 

A step-by-step guide of the handwashing process is also included, using images captured during the trip by Photography and Video undergraduate Charlie Firth. Handeashing for Makeni

“Developing a resource specifically for another country and seeing the difference it will make to children in low income areas has been amazing,” added Sapphire. “The difference that the book can make to these children can be life-changing and that is very rewarding.” 

Dr Katie Laird added: “The launch of the West Africa book at the University of Makeni in Sierra Leone was a great success, with the Vice Chancellor of the university, the Mayor of Makeni City Council and representatives from the Teaching Commission and Ministry of Secondary Education all being present.  

“Children and teachers were taught and trained using the culturally relevant Germ’s Journey resources during the event by academics on the ground and the DMU team virtually.” 

Group GJ

Since launching the Germ’s Journey project three years ago, Professor Younie and Dr Laird have also translated the book into Gujarati, and distributed it throughout the Gujarati region of Ahmedabad, India, while free educational resources are available to download in 10 languages on the Germ’s Journey website. 

Last year, the series was also brought to life at Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum for its MiniBrum gallery; a child-sized world designed for youngsters to explore their understanding of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through different role-play zones. 

The museum incorporated A Germ’s Journey games and activities throughout the exhibition and offered health hygiene workshops for schoolchildren as part of its educational programme. 

For more information about the Germ’s Journey project visit: www.germsjourney.com

Posted on Thursday 29 October 2020

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