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Our Hands, Our Future

Our Hands, Our Future - Lily Goes to Kindergarten
It is Global Handwashing Day (GHD) on 15 October ( This year’s theme is ‘Our Hands, Our Future’. It reminds us that handwashing not only protects our own health, but also our future, and the future of our communities and the world.

Hygiene and sanitation has a big impact on children worldwide. UNICEF New Zealand ( has helped bring water and soap to countries in the Pacific and worldwide but bringing the world’s issues to our doorstep can be challenging. In Aotearoa our issues are different and we sometimes struggle to relate to places in the world without water or soap. So I want to tell you about Lily and the work we are doing at Seatoun Kindergarten to keep Lily safe through our attention to handwashing.

Lily is four years old. She was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome which meant that only half of Lily’s heart functioned normally. She has had four open-heart surgeries and 19 months ago she had a heart transplant. (ür-Lily-1579766808952895/) Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is the most common birth defect in the world and in Aotearoa twelve babies are born with CHD each week. Annie Cunningham of Heart Kids NZ says ‘Lily will have to live the rest of her life with a compromised immune system. She has to take drugs daily to dull her immune system, which keeps it from attacking her new heart.’ (

I met Lily in April. She was at kindergarten for three weeks and then away for most of the winter with sickness that threatened her heart and ultimately her life. As her mum says in her blog ( ‘we now understand the full concept of immunosuppression!’

Our team wanted to do all we could to help Lily stay safe on her return to kindergarten. We have just finished writing procedures to eradicate bacteria and viruses. These cover cleaning with disinfectant, toileting, food handling and messy play. Ensuring that Lily and those around her are using good hand hygiene practices is a major focus of our processes. We have also highlighted to other families the importance of handwashing and keeping sick children at home until they are better.

Organisation Mondiale Pour l’Education Préscolaire/World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP) ( is raising awareness of GHD across the early childhood sector in Aotearoa New Zealand. GHD is a reminder to teachers and families about the impact of handwashing on children’s health through preventing diarrhoea and respiratory illness. These diseases cause over one million child deaths each year (

OMEP has teamed up with Seatoun Kindergarten during 16-20 October to promote handwashing for our children and create a universal approach that ensures safe practices for Lily. We will focus on children developing good hygiene habits, including good handwashing, at home, in school and in the community.

Lily’s world depends upon our vigilance to meet her needs 100% of the time so she can grow and enjoy life. She is now learning how to care for herself and just needs our support until she is engaging in her own healthy behaviours.. Right now she gets distracted and forgets to wash her hands. Sometimes she doesn’t understand why we suggest she plays with a child who does not have a runny nose, or why she has to wash her hands – properly – every time (she likes to use hand sanitizer). Most children can deal with normal and everyday bacteria but we need to keep them at as low a level as possible at the kindergarten, because while other children are building their immune system, Lily does not have one to build.

The Seatoun teaching team are currently trying to get Lily some help for her health condition through the School High Health Needs Fund. It seems clear to me that Lily meets the Ministry of Education’s eligibility criteria for funding: ‘The student has a high health need of such intensity or frequency or duration, that care is needed to: protect their life: protect severe effects on physical health; control infection.’ The current funding challenges make us worry that Lily might not be eligible, or the support won’t go far enough.

If we cannot get help it will be difficult for us, but we will continue with the work because it is our responsibility under the Health and Safety Act. The Act includes being safe at ECE and it shifts our focus, from monitoring and reporting incidents, to creating a culture of proactively identifying health and safety risks and taking reasonable steps to manage them. The Act also clarifies who at ECE is responsible for health and safety and what happens if they fail to do their job. Let’s hope the Act facilitates our advocacy and our funding application for Lily.

It is up to the teaching team to do the best we can to ensure Lily has access to ECE and opportunities to learn. We owe it to her and her family to provide a normal childhood experience in the safest possible environment. An investment in ongoing hygiene practices at our kindergarten will protect Lily, allow all the children in our kindergarten to enjoy fewer sick days, and improve their understanding of how to maintain health and wellbeing. All children across the country deserve to be taught about hand hygiene so they learn how and why to make washing their hands a regular habit.

Next week our class will learn about how poor sanitation and hygiene causes 1.4 million children to die each year around the world. At Seatoun Kindergarten we hope to figure out how we can help Lily first and then other children elsewhere. By making our learning relevant at home, we have the opportunity to look at the world.

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