Haiti: Keep Yourself Clean, And Feel Refreshed

October 15th is Global Hand Washing Day!

In many parts of the world where AAR Japan has been actively involved, a lot of people, many of whom are children, have lost their lives to infectious diseases that could have been prevented if they had lived in Japan. This is due to a lack of safe drinking water and adequate knowledge of hygiene.

Since the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, there has been a large-scale outbreak of cholera, which is transmitted by unclean water. The outbreak has left the country with the highest rate of cholera-infected persons in the world. In other regions too, people have no choice but to use unclean water, for example, in the north-western part of Pakistan, where a large number of people have taken refuge from the civil war; and also in the north-eastern part of Kenya, where many people have settled because of the repeated droughts that have made their nomadic life impossible.

Besides providing these countries with wells, toilets and washrooms / washing facilities, AAR has been teaching Haitians the proper way to wash hands and the importance of using a toilet, so that hygienic habits will become part of their everyday lives.

“Where should we pee or poo?” AAR staff in Haiti asks the children in Sacre Coeur primary school, showing pictures of the toilet and hand washing facilities.  (March 25th, 2014)

Let’s Do it at Home, too

In Haiti, where toilets are not common, infectious diseases are transmitted by food contaminated by flies and other insects settling on excrement left outside. To make matters worse, due to the lack of education on hygiene, local people have no idea how to sterilize their drinking water, nor do they make it a norm to wash their hands after excretion or before meals. Since 2013, in addition to building a toilet and a hand-washing station in five primary schools in the Carrefour district in the suburbs of the capital, Port-au-Prince, AAR has been offering a seminar for teachers and students to learn the importance of hygiene. The content of the seminar includes topics such as how to clean their house, how to wash their hands, and the importance of keeping their toilet clean. The following is a report by Masumi Honda, Programme Coordinator in charge of Haiti operation.

A teacher who attended the AAR seminar is educating his students about hygiene (May 29th, 2014)

Sound Body and Sound Mind in a Clean Environment

 Alexandra, who attended our hygiene seminar, is now the hygiene leader in her school, encouraging her classmates to clean their classrooms and sharing what she learned in the seminar with them. She says that, even at home, she tells her family members about the importance of hygiene and hygienic practices – for instance, washing hands after excretion and before meals, sterilization of drinking water by boiling, sterilization by using a water purifying substance, house cleaning, and the best ways to store and preserve food. By keeping the toilet clean, “it smells good and it makes me feel clean,” she says.

Students are washing their hands in a hand-washing station right next to the toilet. (May 29th, 2014)

First Things First – Preventing Infectious Diseases at Home

Since February 2014, AAR has given the opportunity for parents to attend a hygiene seminar, so that they can keep up with the good hygiene habits. Gilbert (38) is a good example. It used to be the case that he never washed his hands before meals, let alone told his children to do so. However, now he never fails to wash his hands whenever he comes home, since he learned in the AAR seminar how important it is to wash hands, in order to reduce the risk of catching infectious diseases. Through actually practicing how to wash hands properly and learning how to effectively teach his children, he has learned how to spread the message of the importance of good hygiene.

Gilbert and his children. “We now wash our hands together.” (August 19th, 2014)
Lega (28) said, without hesitation: “The most important thing I learned in the AAR seminar was how to preserve drinking water and how important it is to keep our environment clean. I had used the water purifying substance for sterilization, but it never occurred to me how to keep the flies and the mosquitoes away from our drinking water,” as she showed me her water which was stored in a container with a thick lid. After learning that keeping the environment clean can keep away the flies and mosquitoes, and thus prevent infectious diseases, she has started to sweep the roads in her neighborhood and refrain from littering on the roads.

Regale (on the right) and her children. “Ever since I learned how to lead a hygienic life, we have been enjoying a healthy life.”  (August 19th, 2014)
Those who attended our seminar have been playing an active role in their respective families, in terms of initiating good hygiene habits. They now keep their toilets and their rooms clean, and hand washing has become an important part of their lives. AAR is planning to provide the local people with more opportunities to learn the practicalities of good hygiene.

We would like to express our gratitude for your donations and the Grant Assistance for Japanese NGO Projects (subsidized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) for enabling the implementation of the activities mentioned in this article.

[Reporter] Masumi Honda – Programme Coordinator. Masumi is responsible for Haitian and Sudan operations, stationed at Tokyo office. She joined AAR in September 2011 after working in the private sector. Masumi was born and raised in Tokyo, and studied Anthropology in a university in the US. 
Japanese-English translation by Ms Yoko Natsume
English editing by Mr Richard Whale

The article on this page has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.