Every year water-related diseases affect more than 1.5 billion people (WHO & UNICEF JMP 2015).
While access to clean water can help lower these disease rates in developing communities, the truth is that clean water alone is not enough. Without health and hygiene education, the impact of safe water is limited. It is estimated that the simple act of washing hands with soap and water can decrease the number of people sick with diarrhea by over 30% (Ejemot et al. 2008).
Without proper health & hygiene education, it is often the young women and children that are disproportionately affected. For children, water-borne illnesses can be deadly. It is estimated that every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related illness (WHO & UNICEF JMP 2015). For young women, knowledge about issues like proper feminine hygiene and how to feed an infant is vital as they make the difficult transition through adolescence.
Water-borne illnesses also hinder both of these populations from attending school and breaking the cycle of poverty. It is estimated that 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases (UNDP 2006). Without education it becomes increasingly difficult for them to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Here at Healing Waters we firmly believe that the health & hygiene classes we implement through our Holistic Transformation Model is just as important as the clean water provided by our water purification technology, which is why we empower communities to teach health & hygiene courses. Without it, many of the health benefits of having access to clean water are negated.
Our curricula are specifically geared towards young women and children- the two populations most adversely affected by water-borne illnesses. We believe they are change makers, and our hope is that they take what they have learned and apply it beyond the classroom, impacting the culture of their homes and communities.
We recently received an email from a new health & hygiene trainer in the community of Bonnette, Haiti. The community recently began teaching health & hygiene classes at school for the children in the community and are already reporting that the children have begun washing their hands on a regular basis! Through these classes they are hoping to not only protect the children from contracting waterborne-illnesses like cholera and typhoid, but also to help them know Christ better through the bible stories and activities with which the curriculum is taught.
In Jocotán, Guatemala our local site partner Armina Mineras has also begun teaching the children’s health & hygiene classes. During these classes, which are taught on Fridays and Saturdays, children from the local community received story workbooks to color and answer questions in. They also got hands-on practice with activities like hand-washing and hygienic food preparation.
During follow-up visits, our field staff reported that it was clear the children had really learned the material. On the spot, several 8- to 9-year-olds were able to rattle off information from topics covered in previous weeks including the 6 steps of hand washing. More importantly, they also reported that actual behavior change was clear to see. The kids are now washing their hands after using the bathroom and before eating, which they had not done previously.
Armina also recently began teaching a health & hygiene class for young women. Knowing the importance of proper health & hygiene knowledge for the young women in her community, she created special invitations for the women in her community. Nine women attended her first meeting, some even promising to bring a friend for the next one!
We are so encouraged by these reports and the changes our site partners are seeing in their communities. By adopting proper health & hygiene practices our prayer is that these young women and children will remain healthy and able to attend school and pursue their God-given dreams.
Although it may seem obvious, being able to teach a community about health and hygiene is vital. It is vital to maintaining good health, which makes it vital to just about everything else! it is so important to remember that in the fight against water-borne illnesses, oftentimes it is the simple acts like hand washing that can truly make all the difference.