Location: Humjibre, Ghana
Organizations: Ghana Health and Education Initiative
These days in Ghana, handwashing with soap seems more important than ever. Three weeks ago, GHEI visited every school in our area with educational outreach programs (http://gheiblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/health-education-outreaches-great-success/) focused on Ebola, cholera, and the importance of good hygiene in the prevention of communicable diseases. On Wednesday, to celebrate Global Handwashing Day, we did it again.
The day started early, with announcements on Humjibre’s public address system informing everyone that it was Global Handwashing Day. We would be celebrating in Humjibre by washing our hands with soap and water at the three critical times – before preparing food, before eating, and after using the toilet – along with people from all over the world. GHEI also publicly broadcast Sunny Neji’s new hit Wash Your Hands O! which Humjibre’s children cannot resist dancing to.
Ebola is still not in Ghana or any of the nations that Ghana borders. However as of October 15th, there have been almost 9,000 cases of the Ebola virus disease and almost 4,500 deaths according to the WHO. In a nation where people are rightfully concerned about the spread of this deadly disease, the knowledge that hand washing with soap can prevent it is critical.
Closer to home, hand washing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent communicable diseases like diarrhea and acute respiratory infections. Children suffer disproportionately from these diseases, and preventing them can lead to healthier children who are able to spend more time in school.
GHEI visited a total of eight local schools, reaching about 1,700 students. Since we had recently done presentations at all of Humjibre’s schools, we decided to keep the program short. We began by recognizing the efforts of each school’s hand washing monitors in front of their peers and allowing them to lead us in singing the GHEI classic hand washing song, Soap and Water. Every child in Humjibre knows this song, as well as every volunteer (www.ghei.org/volunteers) that has ever visited (click to hear our community health workers singing here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCmjQMs6dBU) and a volunteer rendition here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH7ayT_BTDU)).
Next, a boy and a girl from each school were asked to come to up to the polytank and demonstrate proper hand washing technique. Thanks to a recent donation by John T. Moore Middle School in Tennessee, GHEI now has polytanks which provide clean, running water at all eight of our Handwashing with Soap (http://ghei.org/programs/health-programs/handwashing-soap) participating schools. Each school had soap ready by the tank and the children sang as they watched their peers enthusiastically wash their hands. When we asked questions for toffees, testing the students on their hand washing knowledge, practically everybody raised their hands. Between the past two outreach programs and GHEI’s regular hand washing reminders, the students have learned; and that is exactly what we are looking for.
GHEI often chooses to target children because they are open to new ideas, and are powerful agents in spreading change. If children learn healthy habits when they are young, then those habits will stick with them. GHEI’s Country Director Clement Donkor explained: “People here don’t always know that [hand washing with soap] is important. But now the children do, and since they’ve learned it early, they will always do it and keep it when they get older.”
The simple practice of hand washing with soap can prevent diseases and save lives. Proper hygiene has been cited as critical to maintaining public health for the last 150 years and now in Ghana, the lesson seems more important than ever. Our children are learning the value of hand washing with soap, and taking the right steps by advocating for its proper use.
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