When I was little and would use the facilities so to speak, I would wash my hands with soap if it was #2 or simply rinse them a bit for #1. Those were the standard operating procedures for Little Luth. I never really thought about the science behind why hands needed to be clean or how one methodically went about ensuring they were so.
Now my hygiene habits weren’t particularly worse than anyone else around me on a typical day back in the states, but they probably weren’t as clinically sterile as they could have been. How often did I rub my hands on my pants and then take a bite of a sandwich or open the door of a Chipotle before enjoying a burrito? (Mmm…burrito…wait, what are we talking about again? Oh yes.)
In the past year and a half my hand-washing habits had gotten worse. Even now I’m sitting in my house, a head cold and nervous it might be hep A since a bout has been going around my village lately picking off one student after another. The opportunities for hand-washing are greatly decreased here due to lack of running water and hand-washing stations posted around plus the cultural habit of shaking every man’s hand no matter how soon you need to be eating something. That’s one more incentive to ‘get it right’ when you do have the chance.
A health volunteer friend of mine, Tori, came out to my village earlier this winter to do a couple of health lessons for my students, one being hand-washing for the adorable second and third graders. Or at least I considered them to be adorable until my counterpart decided it was a good idea to stuff 90 of them into a classroom for the lesson. It’s easy to have a less gracious view of 90 little snots all talking at once and shoving each other to get as close as possible to the front of the room.
Saving the world, one pair of hands at a time
I listened to her lesson in between breaking up fights and rerouting attention and realized, “Wow. I’m learning something.” There’s a kind of technique to hand-washing that goes beyond just letting water run over your hands. I was especially impressed by the double fingernail scrub (picture a row of choir kids singing with their hands clasped in front of them) and the thumb wash (picture milking a cow). I was going to be so much healthier from her on out, and a lot more happy each time I washed my hands singing the full ABCs before I walked away.
The neatest thing about the training though was how memorable it was. To this day I still wash my hands differently because of that training. And this is what any of our trainings focus on: behavior change. Just how you can get someone to change risky behavior for healthier behavior is a tricky task set before volunteers on a daily basis.
So thank you Tori! My hands have never felt so clean, nor have I had so much fun washing!
Health volunteers are doing amazing things and are making a big difference in communities around the world. Remember to thank a Health Peace Corps Volunteer the next time you see one!