It can be a bit challenging altering the behavior of yourself, let alone others; especially when it comes to hand-washing. On the surface it seems easy to improve sanitation practices, but in reality a change of behavior is a difficult task to influence. For one, there is a discussion of education. Have they been taught about hand-washing? When to do it, why it is important, how to properly perform the action. Again, it seems simple, a no-brainer! After you use the bathroom, before you eat, to mitigate the spread of illnesses, with soap and running water for the length of Happy Birthday. But that is because we, Westerners, grew up with hand-washing ingrained in our households and educational environments. I recall my health classes giving classes solely to hand-washing, and the nurses office boasting posters with How-To images. Here in this small indigenous community however, there has been no such education. So to begin with a change in behavior starts with repetitive educational lessons.
Over the course of my time here thus far, I have given a multitude of hand-washing charlas. With children and adults alike, I have interactively discussed the transmission and mitigation of illnesses. Nevertheless, I still have not seen a change in behavior at the household level. From what I have observed, practically no one washes their hands before cooking or eating, after going to the bathroom or working in the fields. For those that do wash their hands, it is quite often not with soap, and hands are dried using a dirty towel. I think it will just take more repetition and a solid connection of disease transmission and mitigation before the behavior will be changed for the better. In the meantime, I continue to promote hand-washing in active ways, including making soap at home and using tippy-taps.
I first learned about a tippy-tap during PST (pre-service training) Tech Week. It is a basic hand-washing station that helps to eliminate one’s hands touching anything other than soap. During Tech Week, PCVs split into groups with the host community schoolchildren to have a tippy-tap making competition. First, find two durable branches that end in a Y. Secure these into the ground a few feet apart. Find another straight branch and lay it across the two Y branches. Decorate a gallon bottle with a handle and slip it through the straight branch. Tie a long piece of string to the mouth of the bottle and secure the other end to a durable branch on the ground. One side of the ground branch should lift up, to give a peddle-motion. Secure soap to the structure by heating a nail, poking it through the soap, then securing it with string. Your tippy-tap is ready! When you wash your hands, lightly step on the ground branch until the gallon tips towards you. Lather your hands with water and soap then rinse of as you continue to press down on the branch. When you’re finished, step off the branch and air dry (or use a clean towel). This is just one activity you can do in your community to help increase awareness about hand-washing and disease transmission/mitigation. Please share with me techniques you have done in your communities!