November 17

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All Hands on…Each Other!

‘Yes you heard me right. Please dip your hands in your favourite paint!’ These were the words I told school age children in Tacloban a couple weeks back. I was asked to lead up the Global Hand Washing Day at a local elementary school. Needless to say, the children loved me. The teachers, well, perhaps not so much, as paint got on everything.

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Global Hand Washing Day is an annual global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of hand washing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. The past couple years I have traveled to Haiti to teach various hygiene skills including the importance of washing your hands. The kids always love this lesson and the sparkles I use to teach how germs are spread.

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This event was the most fun I’ve had teaching germ spread. Each child got to dip their hands in their favourite color paint. There were several bright colors to chose from.

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Next the real fun began. We practiced spreading germs. I encouraged the children to touch as many hands as possible.

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Their hands became quite colourful. For that matter, so did our adult hands. Kids learn quickly when it’s fun.

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Hand washing isn’t practiced in many Filipino homes. Children succumb to impetigo and conjunctivitis from a lack of good hygiene. Both of these ailments are quite prevalent in the communities I have visited.

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Celebrated annually on October 15th, Global Hand Washing Day was founded by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Hand Washing, and is an opportunity to design, test, and replicate creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times.

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I tried to make the lessons stick. I did a quiz and asked for volunteers to come up. Prizes were given for the correct answers. Everyone seemed to listen intently in hopes of securing a prize.

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Global Handwashing Day is designed to foster and support a global and local culture of hand washing with soap. After our hands were coloured with paint, it was time to wash up. Each child diligently scrubbed to remove the paint, which took up to a minute or more.

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By shining a spotlight on the benefits of hand washing around the world, awareness is focused on prevention. If each of us washed our hands three times a day, the incidence of diarhea would go down by 43%. In a country where many children are dying of preventable diseases, this is powerful and can save lives.

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The ‘germinators’, the school’s choir, taught everyone a song on how to wash your hands. It was fun and catchy.

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The first Global Handwashing Day was held in 2008, when over 120 million children around the world washed their hands with soap in more than 70 countries.

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Since 2008, community and national leaders have used Global Handwashing Day to spread the word about handwashing, build sinks and tippy taps, and demonstrate the simplicity and value of clean hands. Each year, over 200 million people are involved in celebrations in over 100 countries around the world. Global Handwashing Day is endorsed by a wide array of governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, NGOs, private companies, and individuals.

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Our day ended with a proud display of all of our hand prints on a billboard. The local school will use this to remind children why to wash their hands.

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Additionally, it was quite touching to come here just before the second anniversary of Haiyan. Many children and teachers had lost loved ones in the super typhoon. Their resilience is amazing. Every single one had a smile on their face. It was quite touching.

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Equally touching is quite it took for many of these children to just get to school. This morning it was raining quite heavily. We passed many children walking great distances on muddy roads to get to school.

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Save the Children has supplied backpacks and raincoats so the children can remain as dry as possible in their commute. I paused to reflect how many American children complain about having to get up early to catch the bus to school. Can you imagine if there wasn’t a bus? Education is a privilege and each of us should appreciate it.

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In summary, no matter what your role, you can celebrate Global Handwashing Day too. How many times have each of us seen someone forget to wash in the restroom or before eating? Maybe you can help organize an event in your community next October 15th.