Yesterday, October 15th, was Global Handwashing Day. Here is one of our volunteers, Christa Kocha, reflecting on hand washing.
As I write this blog, it is Global Handwashing day (Oct. 15). Every year, on this day, over 200 million people are involved in celebrations in over 100 countries around the world. One might question the importance of having a day dedicated to promoting both washing hands with soap and the proper technique. It may seem pretty self-evident that you should wash your hands after going to the washroom, before eating, or after handling animals. However, while 96% of adults in the US say they wash their hands but only 93% of women and 77% of men actually do. Did you know that hand washing with soap before eating or preparing food can reduce diarrheal risk by around 45%? Or that hand washing with soap helps prevent pneumonia and acute respiratory infections? These are shocking statistics, and since hands are the primary carriers for disease-causing germs it would make sense to know how to wash our hands properly to stop the transmission of easily preventable diseases. I discussed the techniques of hand washing with the other members of the Humber Youth Development team, and found that, while we were very careful with washing our hands at the important times, we did not wash our hands properly. In fact, the majority of people do not. To wash your hands properly, you must scrub every part of your hand, including back, in between your fingers, underneath the nails and on your wrists, for 20 seconds. Many people, while washing their hands with soap, do it as quickly as possible. It seems the importance of this day is monumental, it could save lives. It was our task today, to create an event down at the YMCA Vocational Technical Institute (VTI) in awareness of Global Handwashing day. The team and I found it somewhat daunting, we wanted to get not only the message across, but also the gravity of the situation, the easy but important act of washing hands.
The team and I made our way down to the YMCA early this morning to put together hand washing kits we were giving to the students of the YMCA VTI, and set up our Handwashing day presentation. The kit included items that we thought necessary for clean hands. This included a bar of soap, hand sanitizer and a hand towel. Many public bathrooms in Ghana do not have soap, or something to dry their hands, so the bar of soap and towel seemed necessary, while hand sanitizer can work well for the students when they are not near facilities to clean their hands. The YMCA itself does not have proper access to water and soap the students must wash their hands in a bowl of water, which can also transmit germs. Myself and the other volunteers will be helping the students of the YMCA to make a tippy tap – an inexpensive and easy way to make a tap to properly wash hands after using the washroom.
The presentation itself started off with a poll. The students had to close their eyes and answer honestly if they washed their hands in certain situations. These situations included, handling food, using public transportation, petting animals, shaking hands or handling money. The majority of the students said they washed their hands after using the washroom, or before handling food, but there were very few who said they washed their hands after the above situations. Alisha discussed why properly washing your hands is important in all of the above situations. Carleigh followed this up with statistics on hand washing, and what washing hands can accomplish, which surprised many of the students. I then demonstrated, with the use of flour, how germs can be transmitted in the air by sneezing, which resulted in me, and many of the girls in the front row covered in flour. The flour was again used to demonstrate how easily germs travelled from hand to hand – ten of the students volunteered to cover their hands in flour, and then go and shake other students’ hands. These students then shook other students’ hands and so on. By the end of the activity, most of the students had flour on their hands….or their clothes, which was now a perfect opportunity to show them the proper technique for washing their hands. With Carleigh as my instructor, I demonstrated how to wash my hands properly, which we then got some other volunteers from the students to come up and demonstrate as well. The students all picked up the proper technique easily, as did the staff of the YMCA, and were eager to show. When we told the students that they were each going to get the hand washing kits we made, they were visibly excited, which surprised the team and I. It was a simple gesture to the students, but seemed to make all the difference to them, which is a reminder of what Global Handwashing Day is all about; that something as simple as properly washing your hands with soap and water, can save lives.