Friday, April 13, 2007

Wash Your Hands!

This from my buddy Gita who left CRS to work as a PR chick at the Red Cross (I forgive you!). Check out Relief Web for more information, uplifting or depressing, depending on your frame of mind, on what's going on in the world to help people who are not as fortunate as you and me.

Indonesia: Improving water and sanitation through community training in Aceh - Apr 5: Relief Web

By Gita Modgil, Canadian Red Cross, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Yanti walks towards her house in the Walubi temporary living centre where she has been staying with surviving members of her family since the 2004 tsunami destroyed her home.
Along the way, she meets her neighbour’s daughter, Putri, who is washing her hands. “Are you using soap?” asks Yanti.

Putri smiles, says a big “yes” and runs off to play with her friends.

Yanti is part of a new group of community-based outreach workers, who are leading efforts by the Canadian Red Cross to bring hygiene care and sanitation promotion to communities across Aceh.

“I encourage them to wash their hands with soap after latrine use. When preserving cooked food, always cover it with a lid. They listen to me carefully and try to follow the instructions. It’s the first time they’re hearing these messages,” says Yanti.

Around 114 community health volunteers have already been provided with Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) training by the Canadian Red Cross. PHAST training uses innovative approaches and tools to promote hygiene, sanitation and community management of water and sanitation facilities.

“The underlying basis for the PHAST approach is that no lasting change in people’s behaviour will occur without understanding and believing, and this requires culturally sensitive and appropriate health education. The training method employed by Canadian Red Cross uses tools that are very participatory and visual, like community story telling,” says Meiry Nasution, a hygiene promotion coordinator for Canadian Red Cross.

Canadian Red Cross is combining the PHAST training with much-needed sanitation facilities for over 16,000 people spread across 12 temporary living centres in Aceh. These include the construction of bathing and washing areas, latrines with improved safety features for female users (such as lights, locks, and garbage bins for disposal of sanitary products), septic tanks, as well as providing cleaning materials.

“After the tsunami there was an increase in stomach aches and diarrhea but even before the tsunami we used to suffer from scabies and other skin diseases. But the interventions carried out by agencies like Canadian Red Cross have assisted us in reducing that. Because of the PHAST training I know that my children would get these skin diseases because they would go to the bathroom in front of our house and then play near that area,” says Dahaiyar who recently received PHAST training.

Yanti, her friend Mala, and the other community health workers in Walubi bring together the whole community on one day each month to clean the temporary living centre. Yanti puts together a list of responsibilities for each member during the community service day known locally as ‘Gotong Royong’.

“I like to see the barrack clean. Even though we don’t get a salary, we do it for our community. The training gave me the knowledge I needed to make my community better and safer,” says Mala.

“The volunteer community health workers are the lynchpin of our efforts to bring quality health care to people and to change their health and hygiene habits. The tsunami has given us a window to raise the bar in the areas of hygiene and sanitation,” says Natalie Jette, the water and sanitation delegate for Canadian Red Cross in Aceh.

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