Clean Hands, Healthier Kids

Clean Hands, Healthier Kids
BY BUNGA SIRAIT | March 21, 2006

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http://www.mercycorps.org/topics/health/

We’re running out of soap. My wife is shopping in the market to get some,” says Widodo, the chief of Petojo, a neighborhood in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. He’s answered our question before we even have the chance to ask about the soap that’s supposed to be provided for in the neighborhood hand-washing station. It might seem like a simple thing, but it’s actually a huge sign of progress – and commitment – in this poor neighborhood.

A couple of months ago the people of Petojo, working together with Mercy Corps, built a hand-washing station in their neighborhood, and ideally there should always be a bar of soap and a clean towel ready at the station. Since the station’s opening, Widodo has been the one supplying soap bars while the residents take turns to washing towels and making sure they’re always stocked.

“One bar of soap usually lasts only for a week,” Widodo says. “But I don’t mind, as long as it’s for the kids.”

Petojo is one of 11 communities in Jakarta that have partnered with Mercy Corps and Starbucks subsidiary ETHOS Water. The program aims to reduce malnutrition among children under five years old in Jakarta. Building sanitation facilities like the hand-washing station is only a part of the program’s holistic approach to support healthy behavior practices, starting with little things like washing hands with soap.

Although it might seem trivial, dirty hands can cause diarrhea – a disease that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), causes the deaths of two million children under five years old every year.

Located in central Jakarta, Petojo is home to approximately 3,000 people. A staggering 20 percent of families live in poverty and 23 percent of young children are malnourished. Like in many urban poor areas in Jakarta, the residents in Petojo don’t have proper sanitation access.

But since September 2006, things have improved – thanks in large part due to the collaboration between the community and Mercy Corps. Neighborhood residents now enjoy using the four hand-washing stations built in strategic places where children play. The stations were designed in two different sizes: one for adults, and a lower one for children. There are also pictures drawn at the station to show the correct way to wash your hands – by rubbing your hands together with soap.

Lilis, 23, says she feels lucky to have the station near her home. Lilis, her husband and their 15-month-old baby Fikri share a tiny, cramped home squeezed into a small alley. Just like her neighbors, Lilis’ family doesn’t have private sanitation access.

She and her family have to go to a public facility to take a shower or go to the toilet – and it’s not free. It costs her 1000 rupiah (10 cents) each time she goes to the facility.

“In one day I have to spend more than 8000 rupiah (80 cents) just for using the facility, and that’s not including my husband,” explains Lilis.

The hand washing station – which is free – has been useful for her and her family.

“I’ve been told that dirty hands can cause diarrhea, worms and other disease like that. Children my son’s age like to put their hands on their mouth after touching things,” Lilis says. “So, before eating or after I take him out to play, I wash his hands at the station.

“And the good thing is, since it’s free, me and my son don’t have to worry about using it as many times as we need to.”

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