Handwashing for Health

My three-and-a-half-year-old is, in my unbiased opinion, super smart. Maybe even a genius. She can recognize letters and numbers. She makes funny jokes. She dresses herself and even gets her pants on the right way around (most of the time). But she cannot remember to wash her hands. It drives me crazy. Every time she goes to the bathroom (another thing she can do all by herself!) I have to ask her, “Did you wash your hands?” And then follow it up, “With soap?” How hard is that to remember for such a smart kid? Moms, can I get an Amen?

In Char Borobila, Bangladesh, moms like us are learning to do exactly the same thing – hound their children to wash their hands. Only for them, it’s a brand new thing.

Helena, a 27 year old mom with two boys – Shawon (9) and Tamim (6) – shares how poor their family health used to be. Her sons were often sick and, to be totally honest, so were she and her husband. They didn’t have running water in their home or a proper toilet. They didn’t have access to nutritious food. And since their income was so low, they couldn’t really afford to go to a proper doctor when they got sick. Instead, they went to a traditional healer who, sadly, wasn’t that helpful.

The result? Sick, tired, weak. It was hard for the parents to work and the kids to go to school. Life was pretty rough.

But a few years ago, Helena had the opportunity to join a Food for the Hungry (FH) women’s health group called “Matirful Mohila Unnoyon Dol” or “Flower of Clay Women’s Development Group” (that’s a mouthful!). It completely revolutionized her life. Not only did this group give her a structure within which she could start saving money, but it also gave her a lot of simple health improvement tips. Tips like, wash your hands with soap after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food.

Helena's passion for home hygiene practices is a reason for improved health in the community.  

That’s when Helena, like every good mom, started hounding her kids to wash their hands. And it made a huge difference. Helena was so keen and competent that the other Flower of Clay group members soon elected her to be their leader. FH trained her on a number of different health techniques, including how to recognize and treat different common diseases so as to prevent unnecessary deaths. She also took lessons on mother and child healthcare to help those new moms and little babes stay strong. Now she’s training other moms to do the same.

Helena forged strong relationships within her community as well as with the local medical community, often viewed suspiciously as outsiders. She takes group members and neighbours to the community clinic (not the traditional healer) for regular checkups and when they fall ill. Because of their friendship, Helena’s community trusts her when she gives them advice about their health.

At home, Helena now has a sanitary latrine and access to clean water. Both her boys attend regular health checkups organized by FH. Like his mom, the oldest, Shawon, shows a keen interest in health work. His dad, Ismail, says, “My sons will be serving in some [kind of] health institutions and take care of sick people after they have completed their studies.”

Helena with her husband and two sons.

And now, unlike my daughter, Shawon and Tamim wash their hands with soap after they go to the bathroom. Helena makes sure of it.

So, don’t give up, moms! Handwashing really does improve our kids’ health. And as exhausting as it can be to sound like a broken record, we’ve got to keep after our little ones to do those little things that make a big difference. It’s how we keep them healthy and happy – just ask Helena!


About the Author: Eryn Austin-Bergen

Originally from the United States, Eryn grew up in The Gambia and Senegal, and as an adult, made her home in Canada. A student of culture and the Bible by education, copywriter by trade, and preacher by passion Eryn worked for FH Canada for four and half years before moving to South Africa with her husband and three-year-old daughter. She now spends her days writing, housewife-ing, mothering, and neighbouring. Check out her website Writing for a Change.



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Food for the Hungry: Handwashing for Health
Handwashing for Health
Food for the Hungry
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