Healthy Communities through Hygiene Awareness
By Cifora Monier
Port au Prince, Haiti, 12 July, 2010 - Magdala Celestin is a young dynamic mother of one who is the Behavioural Change Supervisor on water and hygiene working with one of UNICEF’s partners Solidarites. “I do this work for people to change their behavior and have a positive one when it comes to their hygiene, it’s about ensuring their own cleanliness.”
UNICEF and its partners have been focusing on improving the health of school-aged children, highlighting the need for hygiene promotion, life skills development and water, sanitation and hand-washing facilities for the affected displaced population in Port au Prince, since the January 12, earthquake.
Improving access to water and household water security is a key part of UNICEF efforts in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. Water and sanitation are critical determinants for survival in the initial stage of a disaster.
“For the past six months since the earthquake, I have been raising awareness in nine different spontaneous displacement sites reaching a total of about one thousand people. The messages I share with them are about keeping themselves clean and healthy by bathing on a regular basis, washing their hands with soap and water after using the toilet and brushing their hair” says Magdala.
“I normally show up unannounced on purpose to see if they have really understood my messages. I use flip cards and drawings as most cannot read and write. They seem to understand the messages more clearly when they see colorful descriptive pictures showing each process step by step. Take hand washing for example. The images allow me to show the use of soap and water and then discuss why this is essential before and after certain activities. You cannot imagine how it makes me proud to see that my awareness-raising session has really made a difference in their lives. I see them wash their hands, take baths and most importantly keeping their environment clean. This is a major challenge for those living in such overcrowded urban areas.”
“People often come up to me to thank me for sharing these messages. Mothers often tell me that they’ve noticed that their children scratch themselves less and have fewer skin problems. The young girls are not longer shy about asking me for important advice linked to their personal hygiene. This really encourages me and I am proud to be serving my community since our country was devastated by the earthquake.”
Geraldine is a 13 year old girl who has been living in Pactes Camp with her family since their home was destroyed by the earthquake. “The hardest part of my life was after the quake because we couldn’t breathe healthy air, there were germs and the water in our camp was not treated so we would get sick. And when it rained, water would enter our tent, making things wet and smell bad. But since Madame Magdala came to see our community, we have learned to take care of ourselves and now my little sister complains less about stomach pains.”
When Magdala is asked about how she feels when she hears Geraldine share her experiences, she says “I feel like a valuable part of my community because I am able to share knowledge that improves their well-being.”