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Sightsavers from the field

Captain Clean: teaching children about hygiene through games

June 2022
Six schoolchildren sit on the floor around a board game that they're playing.

“You didn’t clean your face this morning. You get sick. Move back one space.”

As part of the Accelerate programme, Sightsavers is helping to fight trachoma using innovative tools that promote facial cleanliness and environmental improvements (known as F&E).

In Kenya, Ethiopia and Guinea, we’ve helped to create educational board games to teach children about the importance of hygiene: the aim is to encourage them to change their behaviour as part of the countries’ efforts to eliminate the disease.

This type of social behaviour change aims to improve people’s health by influencing their knowledge, attitudes and social norms. It’s the basis of the WASH approach (which stands for ‘water, sanitation and hygiene’). However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for WASH: customs and practices are culturally unique, so the method needs to be tailored to each area.

In schools across Kenya and Ethiopia, students have started playing a game called Captain Clean. Mirriam Nkirote, a public health officer and the F&E coordinator for Narok County, has helped roll out the game in the northern region of Kenya.

“The Captain Clean game is a very interactive hygiene game whose sole objective is to bring about behaviour change on issues concerning sanitation and to help prevent the spread of disease,” says Mirriam. “The game helps raise awareness about facial cleanliness to schoolchildren and to the wider community.”

A boy washes his face using water from a tap.

What is WASH?

Water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives, otherwise known as WASH, are vital to eliminating NTDs as poor hygiene is linked to people contracting and spreading these infections.

Learn about WASH
A group of seven schoolchildren gather around a table where they are playing a board game.

The game is designed to get children thinking about their own days, activities and routines and how hygiene practices can be integrated in a fun way. It is taught at school through health clubs where children learn about health and hygiene. The aim is for hygiene practices and behaviours to be adopted through the game, brought home and shared with family and friends, and carried on after the programme.

Mary*, a student in grade five who has been playing the game at school in Narok, Kenya, shares what she has learned. “The game made me go back home and talk to my parents about the importance of using latrines. It’s so easy to play and understand, and my friends and I enjoy playing it very much.”

Similar to Snakes and Ladders, Captain Clean includes a board, dice and a set of cards, which includes knowledge cards, clean cards, wild cards and dirty cards. The cards dictate what each player can do. Players roll the dice to find out how many spaces they are allowed to move. The space they land on has a colour that represents the type of card they need to pick up. Once they have selected the relevant card, they turn it over and read the action.

Samuel Eshitemi Omukuba, technical manager for WASH and NTDs, explains the game further. “For example, a card could say, ‘You did not wash your hands after visiting the toilet. You must move back three steps.’ And then that student would have move three positions backwards from where they landed.

“The aim of the game is not for children to move ahead or to complete the game, but to get the messages that are on the card with the aim that it’s going to translate into behaviour change.”

As an incentive and reward for playing the game, the winner also receives a prize.

Charles*, a student in sixth grade, who plays the game at school in Narok, Kenya explains, “Thanks to the game, we have learned the importance of hygiene; without proper hygiene we can have diseases like trachoma spread in the community. I think it’s important that we continue playing the game.”

Schoolchildren in Guinea sit around a table in a classroom playing the Captain Clean game, which resembles the board from the game Ludo.

The game has also been adapted so it can be played in Guinea. Following a workshop held by the local organisation Tinkisso, the game was customised to reflect the Guinean context and based on the popular game Ludo. During a training session for teachers, the game was tested and further adapted for Guinean schools.

In Guinea, the game includes a board with four different colours and groups of cards for each colour. Red are ‘dirty’ cards and must be avoided, blue are ‘clean’ cards which are good, green indicates ‘knowledge’ cards that can go all over the board, and yellow are ‘rescue’ cards that allow the player to remain safe for that round and rest. Players throw the dice and move their tokens according to the number, landing on one of the four colours. The player then picks up a new card of the same colour and reads the instructions.

The use of the games has successfully started to show behaviour change in the communities. “We’ve received a lot of very positive feedback from the schools, parents and community members,” explains Mirriam.

“The game’s messages are helping instil behaviour change in the pupils. They want to ensure that their sanitary facilities are clean throughout and that there is no longer open defecation being practiced in the schools. This is also cascading down to the community and household level.

“Students are coming home from school and telling their parents about the game, what they’ve learned and pressuring them to build sanitary facilities at home. Parents are coming to the schools and saying: ‘whatever it is you are teaching at school is working.’”

* Some names have been changed.


Images © Amref Health Africa/Solomon Tamerat

Schoolchildren stand either side of a table on which they are playing a board game.

“Whatever it is you’re teaching at school, it’s working!”

Schoolchildren stand either side of a table on which they are playing a board game.

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