Last Thursday was World Handwashing Day and in celebration my work partner Eli and I visited 7 schools in my district to talk about the importance of hand washing and hygiene. We start out by talking about the health club that I am starting at the library every Wednesday. Then I talk about Peace Corps and that I will be living here for two years. I then ask the students to tell me the times during the day that they wash their hands. Usually they know before eating and after the toilet, I explain other times when their hands may get dirty like after touching animals, working in the fields, or greeting people. I explained how your hands can be dirty and may not look dirty, which all the kids looked horrified when I told them they have bacteria on their hands right now. I then show them how when they touch their eyes, nose, mouth with dirty hands they can spread disease.Games and songs are a really great way to emphasis a health talk with kids and adults so I asked 10 students to come forward. I put oil on my hands and explained that the oil represents bacteria that makes us sick and then I shake hands with all 10 kids. Afterwards Eli shakes hands with all 10 kids without oil on his hands and I ask who had oil on their hands. All the kids, Eli, and I raise our hands. I ask what does the oil represent and they all shout “microbes” and then I ask what we should do now and they all shout “lavez les mains”. It can sometimes be difficult for families to afford soap so the alternative to soap is hand washing with ashes, which should be available to everyone since most people cook over a wood stove, so we demonstrate with soap and ashes. As I wash my hands, I teach them a song to sing while they wash their hands (like how we tell kids to sing happy birthday):
“Lave, lave, lave les mains
Avant chaque repas
Si on ne les lave pas
On va tomber malade”
Eli singing while we wash hands
It’s sung to the tune of row, row, row your boat. The kids laugh and we all wash our hands singing the song. Even a week later every time a kid sees me they get really excited and shout my name (this is normal), but then sing the hand washing song. It’s pretty sweet and I’m hoping it means they will actually follow through with it. I plan on making a follow up visit in a few months to see if kids are using the handwashing stations at the schools and do a post test to see what kids remember. In total we went to 7 schools and talked to 1200 students.
Each year 1.5 million children die from diarrhea around the world and diarrhea is the leading cause of death of children in Togo, which can be prevented through improved hygiene and hand washing (WHO)!
Hand washing station at the elementary school.
I had a bike accident last week and went over my handlebars because the pot holes here are like the Grand Canyon. So I had to go down to Lomé last weekend to get an X-ray on my wrist, which fortunately is not broken and just sprained. It was also a good excuse to eat Chinese food and hang out on the beach. I feel like I have really adjusted to living in Togo because while I was there I felt like everything was exorbitantly expensive, where as last year when I was here I felt like everything in Lomé was so cheap. Hopefully soon I’ll be putting on a parka when it gets down to 80 degrees like my neighbors.