Celebrating Global Handwashing Day
By Edward Bally
BAMAKO, Mali, 26 October 2009 – For the country of Mali, Global Handwashing Day holds special significance. About one in five children in Mali dies before the age of five and approximately half of these deaths are caused by hygiene-related preventable diseases.
Washing hands can reduce the occurance of these diseases by over 40 per cent.
“It’s not only a big party, it has to become a habit that everyone reproduces at home,” said UNICEF Representative in Mali Marcel Rudasingwa. “We have to influence a global change in the behaviors in Mali.”
A reported 1,000 children in Gao celebrated the day by gathering in the local stadium and washing their hands together. There was also a performance by the famous Malian musician Baba Salah.
Breaking records in Bamako
In Bamako, thousands of children were given the day off from school to gather in Modibo Keita Stadium and participate in the following challenge: breaking a record for the number of children washing their hands simultaneously. The record was previously owned by Bangladesh, where 1,200 children washed their hands at the same time.
UNICEF invited 10,000 children and provided them with water bowls and soap. Throughout the day, children from all the schools of Bamako and surrounding areas boarded buses that drove through the busy traffic to drop them at the stadium.
The massive event to celebrate Global Handwashing Day in Bamako was organized in part by Mali’s Ministry of Health. But the purpose of the day wasn’t only to break a record; it was also to raise consciousness about the importance of washing hands with soap at critical moments during the day.
Influencing global change
There are many obstacles that prevent people from practicing good hygiene.
Access to safe water is the first major issue, but there is also a social inertia caused by misconceptions and local customs. In some places, washing hands with soap is a sign of impoverishment.
To help break through the misinformation, UNICEF and Mali’s Ministry of Health invite many artists and political figures to help celebrate the day.
Spreading the message
World-famous singer Habib Koite was among the performers at the event in Bamako.
“We want things to change,” he said. “We’d like children to teach us – the older generation – how to eat properly and have better hygiene. I really hope that when kids go back home tonight, they tell their parents to wash their hands with soap.”
Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré washed his hands in front of the crowd of thousands, and then 10,000 children followed his example. Each child went back home with a washing kit – a perfect way to spread the message of good hygiene.