Wednesday, October 21, 2015

W(h)ater Is the Problem?

Anytime I hop on Facebook, or even open a new tab to the Google home page, I am told that its a special day: National Pizza Day, National Wear Green Day, I bet there's even National Rollerblade To Work Day. My point is that there are so many that we often lose the meaning of important ones.

Last Thursday was Global Hand Washing Day.  No, I didn't find out on Facebook or Google, but in a friendly email from our WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Coordinator. The email contained a helpful guide a the importance of hand washing and some keys facts about hand washing practices.

Many of you reading this are probably thinking, "gross! Who doesn't wash their hands!?" Well, you are probably also reading in front of your computer, down the hall from a bathroom, where you have nonstop access to running water and soap.  Those are luxuries here in Benin.

I've been in Benin for close to four months, all the while living without running water. Showering involves bucket baths or, lucky for me, a solar shower which I have now installed in my backyard. Washing vegetables requires multiple bleach water soaks and even my drinking water is boiled before I filter it through a column filter. My toilet is a latrine pit, so it doesn't require any flushing. But, when it comes to hand washing, it gets a little complicated.

Most Beninese store water in large basins and use a bowl to scoop it out as needed. In my village, all our water comes from a couple different pumps, which I have been told may dry up during the dry season (that's another issue for another time). Some houses, like mine, have large rainwater cisterns. While they may use this water for drinking and cooking, I only use it for laundry, mopping and watering my garden. The main issue with the water storage systems is that when people go to wash their hands, they usually contaminate all their stored water in the process. We teach that for proper hand washing, water must be poured, not scooped.

Remember when I wrote about building Tippy Taps during training? Well, these simple devices are paramount to the hand washing cause. In fact, I'm planning on building one in the next couple weeks at our health center, where we still scoop.

Global Hand Washing Day prompted me to lead a short training during our vaccination session in Zaffe. I highlighted the importance if hand washing, reviewed proper technique and talked to the 12 women who were present about how they can promote hand washing at home (it only takes one pair of little grimy hands to ruin the water for everyone)!  We, well I, had a good time and the message seemed to get across.

Over the weekend, I was parousing NPR news when I came across this article.  I think it does a great job outlining the barriers to hand washing and offering some effective solutions. And, who knew about the goats!?! That is something I'll now need to consider here in Adourekoman!

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