Saturday, November 20, 2010

School Sensibilization - Hand Washing

13 November – Romongo, 9:03pm

I wake up and do my same morning routine – turn off my alarm, go back to sleep, bolt up and dress quickly, eat my bread and coffee while reading, greet the family, and head off on my bike towards the CSPS. I sit and read, greeting Steve as he arrives. He starts recounting stories of the evening before, so I put my book away and laugh with him while we wait for the rest of our group. We have a block of language (for my homework I talk about going camping with Robyn this past summer), but after our break at 9 we join the rest of the group and start planning our TDA at the school. My duct-tape and toilet tube roll “fly” goes over well. We're going to introduce ourselves to the CM2 class (5th grade, 11-16 year olds), then do a skit of two girls – one who washes her hands and covers her food while her friend does not. Then we'll do a demonstration of how our fly's q-tip feet pick up mud and splatter it on uncovered food but covered food is clean and safe, followed by a hand washing demonstration and then we'll watch all 100 of the kids wash their hands in order to get a cookie.

We pump some water into buckets and a bidon to bring with us (there's no pump at the school), then head over. The staff is in a PTA meeting (with my host father – apparently he's the head of the PTA for all the schools in Romongo) so we stand in the courtyard between buildings like lost sheep, immediately surrounded by a growing crowd of children. We watch them as they watch us, smiling and waving to our host siblings, trying not to be overwhelmed by all of the small upturned faces that seem to always be about to ask for something along with the rising smell of bodies that bathe daily but hardly ever see soap. Suddenly we're moving, parting the crowd that collapses behind us, filling in the space as we vacate it. We're ushered into a room, full of overcrowded desks that point towards the chalkboard and we start setting up our materials. We can't seem to find the teacher or tell who he/she is, so we skip that part and go straight to the introduction to the students.

Thankfully they seem to understand our French, for the most part. It all goes off well until the hand washing. We have a volunteer demonstrate, then upon realizing that there are 15 cookies per package, we decide to have 15 kids come to wash, give the leader the package, and have him/her distribute the goods. But we planned on being outside where assembly line washing was possible – now we're stuck inside because of all the kids not in class who would also demand a cookie. Suddenly we're limited to one receptacle bucket, making the process of washing all 100 hands into a very tedious one. Justan proposes making the group leader the only person who washes, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise, handing cookie from clean hand to dirty hand to mouth. Someone brings more buckets, and with three lines going we quickly speed through the class and hand out their reward. Pierre makes them promise to wash their hands before meals and after using the bathroom. I still can't believe that 1 – this worked, and 2 – that it was necessary to tell them to wash their hands after using the toilet when direct prompting failed to elicit any response other than “after a meal”. Yes, your hand is obviously dirty after a meal, but that's literally the least important time to wash it compared with before the meal and after using the bathroom and wiping with your hand. I was afraid that they were going to be really bored and annoyed at our patronizing sensibilization, but I guess it really was useful to emphasize the need to wash one's hands, even with older kids.

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