Students in Haut Damier, Haiti, are ready to participate in Global Hand Washing Day activities organized by UMCOR and USAID. Photo: UMCOR Haiti.
By Louis-Marie Bijou & Dawn Anderson*
Created at the annual World Water Week in 2008 in Stockholm, Sweden Global Hand Washing Day is celebrated on October 15 every year. It is an opportunity to spread awareness of the importance of proper hand washing techniques to protect against disease. Hand washing is a simple and inexpensive way to limit the spread of infectious diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and Ebola.
This year, like in 2013, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Haiti teamed up to celebrate Global Hand Washing Day in Haut Damier, a community located some 15 miles outside the capitol, Port au Prince, as part of the Provision of Integrated Services around New Settlement (PISANS) project.
PISANS is an integrated suite of livelihood, shelter and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs aimed at improving the quality of life for existing residents of Haut Damier as well as occupants of USAID’s 154-house settlement, referred to as DLA 1.5, in the same community.
More than 1,000 people took part in the event. The activities included question-and-answer games featuring questions about proper hand washing techniques; poems about cleanliness, a comedian and music. Prizes were provided to those participating in the games.
"Thanks to UMCOR for organizing this initiative in the community,” remarked Andreus Ceneus, a resident who lives in the community around the DLA 1.5 housing settlement. “UMCOR is doing important work here not only in the area of health, but in many areas. We hope UMCOR will continue to do more of this type of activity in our neighborhood,” he said.
|Government of Haiti social housing official, Thys Miaud, praised the Global Hand Washing Day celebration and underscored the importance of hand washing for the health of the population. Photo: UMCOR Haiti
UMCOR’s hygiene education activities have yielded concrete results: from their inception in August 2013 through December of the same year, each month 19.5 percent of Haut Damier households reported cases of diarrhea, 9 percent reported skin infections, and 3 percent reported cases of cholera or typhoid. But through the next three months (March 2014), PISANS program participants reported no incidents of waterborne diseases (diarrhea, typhoid, and cholera) or infections to the program’s hygiene promoters.
For the first time, this year UMCOR partnered with the Government of Haiti’s social housing agency, Entreprise Publique de Promotion de Logements Sociaux (EPPLS). EPPLS is charged with managing social housing settlements, including DLA 1.5.
"When UMCOR asked if it could hold the hand washing celebration event within the DLA 1.5 village I immediately said yes,” stated EPPLS Director General Thys Miaud. “This activity is very important for the health of the population and it is the main reason I am here this morning to celebrate with the people of Haut Damier,” he said. Miaud was the first person to demonstrate proper hand washing techniques to those in attendance.
They included hundreds of school-age students and their parents, family and friends. UMCOR’s hygiene promoters, community facilitators and members of the Central Committee (the informal governing body of the community) of Haut Damier worked to mobilize attendance of the event.
"I am satisfied with the success of the activity. It permitted the community of Haut Damier to be informed and to be reminded of the simplest means of transmitting disease,” said Marie Clerdite Charles resident and member of the Central Committee.
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*Louis-Marie Bijou is UMCOR Haiti’s Community Engagement Manager and has been with UMCOR since April 2013. Dawn Anderson is UMCOR Haiti’s Deputy Head of Mission and has been with UMCOR since September 2012.