The importance of washing your hands with soap


January 3, 2011

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    Sara Velasquez/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Tsunami-affected and displaced parents and children in the village of Bake, Indonesia listen to a Mercy Corps presentation on hygiene. Photo: Sara Velasquez/Mercy Corps

The emergency response team here in the tsunami-stricken Mentawai Islands has been preparing for a hygiene promotion campaign for survivors, and today was their first day in action!

We left our office this morning at 8 A.M. There was Hetty, Anto, Afkar, Andri, Roni, Warta, Laptor, Farid and myself.

We got on a boat, and went across the water to the next island. It only took about five minutes to get there. We loaded up a borrowed truck with 36 hygiene kits, and we had our own truck waiting to transport the Mercy Corps team. We all jumped in and off we went.

I wasn’t sure how long the drive was going to be but, man, it was rough! There is only one road that stretches along South Pagai from KM 0 to KM 44, and most of the road is just dirt with huge holes. And, because it rains so often here, they are usually quite muddy and there have been a lot of problems of trucks getting stuck along the way.

After two and a half hours of driving — an average speed of less than six miles an hour — we made it to Bake (pronounced Bah – kay), at KM 42.

Driving in, we saw heaps of ShelterBox tents along the roadside, housing all the families. There were no permanent structures, only makeshift frames with tarps over them, or tents for temporary housing.

As soon as we jumped off the truck, we met the residents of Bake. The kids were cute and inquisitive, the parents sweet and kind.

We went around introducing ourselves and speaking Bahasa Mentawai — the local language — when possible. The people of Bake smiled and shouted out when we spoke in their language. I think they liked the effort. After introductions, the Mercy Corps team asked everyone to gather under one of the tarpaulins and began going through the day's hygiene presentation.

This was my first time seeing a hygiene promotion exercise, as well as this team’s first time to put their learning into action. They were really excellent and I was impressed.

Afterward, everyone in attendance were split up into four groups, in which they talked about what they knew about hygiene. We got a demonstration of the proper way to wash your hands — with soap and water — and we talked about how one contamination can lead to another. We emphasized how it can eventually reach you or your children, and make you sick.

Afterwards we distributed hygiene kits, which contain items like soap and detergent, and then piled back in the truck to head down the long, muddy road back home.