Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oh, oh, oh laver les mains!

A lack of running water makes hygiene practices in a village like mine, shall we say, inadequate. Along with AIDS awareness, hygiene is among the 5 topics volunteers are encouraged to promote. In order to address this, I applied for a grant to implement hand-washing stations in each of the classrooms at my primary school.

What's a hand-washing station you ask? Well, in place of sinks, the traditional method of washing your hands here is to pass around a bucket of water that everyone sticks their hands in. As you can imagine, by the time the last person in the group has received the bucket, the water is pretty filthy. Then, everyone proceeds to eat out of a communal bowl with their hands. At school, kids have their own plats of food at lunch (furnished by the World Food Program) but they forgo even the bucket of water method. I'll also mention that all of this takes place outside, not some nice sterile cafeteria. By now you can probably see where my concern for the livelihood of the 600 some students at my school stems from.

Now the hand-washing stations. NI worked with my school to get 45 liter barrels for each class to which we fixed a simple faucet. Voila, a hand-washing station. Included in my grant, were the materials to make sap, so now each class has the means to wash their hands before lunch each day. Hayley and I worked with my staff to give hygiene talks in each class. It was a little rough with the younger kids (since they're just starting to learn French), but the upper classes were good audiences and now understand the connection between gems, eating, and getting sick. We even incorporated written by another volunteer to the tune of Feist's "1,2,3,4." Here are the lyrics in French and English:

un, deux, trois, quatre : je me repose sur la natte
cinq, six, sept, huit : je me lave avant la nuit
et cette soiree, ma mere a preparé
tô avec bonne sauce, mais avant de manger,
ooooh, je me lave les mains,
ooooh, je me lave les mains

un, deux, trois, quatre : brosse les dents avec la pâte
cinq, six, sept, huit : je fait bouillir mon eau de puits
et mon ami, kando jacqueline,
elle fait quelque chose après la latrine
ooooh, elle se lave les mains
ooooh, elle se lave les mains

on lave les mains, c'est pour eviter
les maux de ventre et la diarrhee
ooooh, nous lavons les mains
ooooh, nous lavons les mains

1,2,3,4 I lay on the mat
5,6,7,8 I shower before bed
and this evening, my mom made
tô with good sauce, but before eating
ooooh, i wash my hands
ooooh, i wash my hands

1,2,3,4 Brush your teeth with toothpaste I boil my well water
and my friend, Jacqueline,
she does something after using the bathroom
ooooh, she washes her hands
ooooh, she washes her hands

we wash our hands to avoid
stomach aches and diarrhea
ooooh, we wash our hands
ooooh, we wash our hands


December first (yes I know that was three months ago) is World Aids Day. It's probably not something I was ever aware of back home, but since HIV/AIDs awareness is one of the highest priorities that Peace Corps volunteers are supposed to address, we were encouraged to find some way of 'celebrating' the day. This year, my neighbor came up with an idea that could be easily implemented throughout the country. With the help of a grant from USAID (United States Agency for International Development) about 75 volunteers around Burkina were able to paint murals and carry out awareness campaigns in their villages.

The idea was to have a simple and easily recognizable symbol (the red AIDS ribbon) in a prominent location in the village. Throughout the awareness campaigns, community members were asked to take a pledge to protect themselves, their families, and their communities against the spread of the virus. As their 'signature,' participants added their hand print to the wall.
Hayley chose her CSPS (centre de sante et promotion sociale - a health clinic) as the site for her mural. We were able to enlist the help of the nurses there to educate four different groups of people and fill the wall with handprints.

In my village, we decided to put the mural at the site of a future monthly health clinic. The head nurse at the CSPS in Hayley's village (5 kilometers away) recognized the need for a better solution than having pregnant women walk the distance to the clinic for their monthly prenatal consultations. I worked with my village council to find a suitable building, and once we are able to find a new exam table, the monthly clinic will open there. Luckily the building is in a location where the mural can be clearly seen from the highway running through the middle of my village, as well as by everyone who comes to my market every 5 days.

As Peace Corps volunteers we have a hard time recognizing and appreciating our intangible successes- the majority of our work. I guess now I can say that I've left my mark on Navielgane.