Late last year we visited Konso, southern Ethiopia, and met with Kayaola Gelismo. Kayaola is an ORBIS-trained Health Extension Worker. Working door to door in this densely populated region, she is charged with informing the local community about the importance of good personal hygiene in the battle against the blinding eye disease, trachoma.
Each year, Kayaola attends a day ORBIS training programme. This initiative focuses on highlighting the importance of facial cleanliness. In this way, we can slow down the spread of bacteria which causes trachoma infection. Kayaola engages with the local community through demonstrating hand and face washing techniques. Her work centres on women and children to ensure that the next generation are the first to grow up free from the threat of avoidable blindness.
Kayaola told us that slowly but surely people are realising the lasting effects her work has. Through simple yet effective personal hygiene education, ORBIS is ensuring that local people have the awareness they need to eradicate trachoma from their community forever. Without your support, this would not be possible and for this we thank you.
ORBIS Provides Training in Schools on Personal Hygiene
The remote mountainous region of Bonke Woreda in Gamo Gofa southern Ethiopia is a lot more lush and green than you would expect. There is significant rainfall here each year during the two rainy seasons; March to June and September to November. However, as this region is very poor and extremely difficult to access, particularly during the rainy seasons, there is no proper infrastructure in place to collect this rain water. Therefore, clean water can be very difficult to access and mothers and children often have to walk up to 10km to the closest well.
Bonke has a population of 167,000 with families living in clusters and in very modest huts. With clean water difficult to collect, there is often an emphasis on using this water for cooking rather than personal hygiene. This creates an environment where disease such as the blinding eye disease - trachoma - can spread easily from person to person.
ORBIS provides training to teachers on the SAFE strategy which has been adopted by ORBIS in the fight against avoidable blindness. The SAFE strategy includes surgery to correct the blinding effects of trachoma, antibiotics to fight the bacterial infection, education on the importance of face washing and personal hygiene and improving the environment by building latrines and providing access to clean water. The teachers educate the children on all facets of the SAFE strategy including the importance of hand and face washing. As the children’s habits change in school, they then in turn influence their families and the broader community.
During a recent visit to Bonke, we visited Tsekele School nestled in the hills in the most beautiful setting. As all the kids gathered in the central area between the buildings, we were shown signs around the school on how to wash your hands properly, how to wash your face and how with clean hands and clean faces we can fight avoidable blindness together. We were also shown the newly built latrine which was funded by ORBIS, and the signs encouraging the kids to use the latrine and wash their hands afterwards. Outside the latrine was a very basic but effective plastic container with a tap allowing the kids access to clean water to wash their hands. Every day this container is taken to a well by some of the children where it is filled and brought back to the school to ensure that all of the kids have access to clean water with which to wash their hands.
After our tour of the school we were brought back to the central area where the children treated us to singing and dancing. Their songs included one about the importance of washing your hands and face. Without this vital education, these children would not have the knowledge to help themselves and would be stuck in a cycle of re-infection of trachoma which would lead eventually to visual impairment and subsequent blindness. Giving these children the knowledge of the importance of personal hygiene empowers them to change their own future. With your help they can be the first generation of children to grow up without the threat of avoidable blindness.
Spreading the word about good personal hygiene
Girar is a small outpost some 150km/95m southwest of Addis Ababa. The population survives mainly on the cultivation of Ensete and various ‘cash crops’. Infrastructure is poor and communications are limited.
Demisse Habte is an ORBIS-trained Health Extension worker based in Girar Health Post. Although this is a small and simple structure, the staff are enthusiastic and thrive on the success of their programmes. Demisse’s remit is varied and covers a large geographical area in southern Ethiopia. He has a pivotal role in the community as a trusted health worker and community liaison officer. A large part of his work involves the dissemination of the skills and knowledge needed to encourage good personal hygiene.
Working in tandem with the local primary school, located directly across the road from Girar Health Post, Demisse distributes information on the importance of hand and face washing, in accordance with the World Health Organisation’s SAFE Strategy, to the local schoolchildren on a regular basis.
Through interactive education and theatrical recreation, the importance of good personal hygiene is highlighted in Girar Primary School. Children and teachers perform plays, write poetry, compose prose and sing songs all dedicated to improving attitudes towards personal hygiene.
Demisse explains that ‘Although it is sometimes difficult to access clean water, we are working very hard to ensure that each household understands the importance of personal hygiene”.
A large part of Demisse’s work is centred on the idea that through educating young children in local schools, these pupils will then return home with the knowledge that good personal hygiene is a key element in warding off disease. In turn, the parents of these children are exposed to new attitudes towards personal hygiene.
Girar and the surrounding area have had much success through this model of education with the number of reported cases of trachoma decreasingly steadily since ORBIS first began training eye care workers in the region.
The work of ORBIS-trained eye care workers like Demisse is providing a vital service in the dissemination of information regarding the importance of good personal hygiene. Through providing the vital skills and knowledge needed to eliminate preventable blindness, ORBIS is not only securing the future of those at immediate risk of trachoma but that of the next generation too.
9 November 2012
During a recent trip to Ethiopia, I witnessed the children washing their hands after using the latrines in their school.
The school did not have a mains water supply and therefore no taps or running water, so the school is forced to improvise by simply using containers of water, which are filled and carried to the school every morning by the students.
For many years now, ORBIS has been campaigning in schools about the importance of personal hygiene, especially washing hands after using the latrine. It is refreshing to see the children realising the importance of personal hygiene and not only ensuring that they keep THEIR hands and faces clean, but they also take this message home to their famillies.
Trachoma is a major public health problem in southern Ethiopia and poor personal hygiene will inevitably give rise to trachoma infections.
One of the best ways to prevent the transmission of trachoma is by encouraging face and hand washing - not easy where water is scarce. This will help to slow the spread of bacteria which causes infection and ultimately prevent people from contracting trachoma. ORBIS representatives train teachers about facial cleanliness, personal hygiene, environmental sanitation and how to wash hands effectively to prevent the spread of bacteria.
In the school I visited in a rural village in Dita, each classroom had a water canister outside where children and teachers could wash their hands. The children in this school had been taught the importance of cleanliness and in turn brought these lessons back to their parents.
It is vital that the attitudes across these communities change and the local people undersatnd the importance of good personal hygiene and how this can prevent a multitude of diseases.
ORBIS continues it's work to educate teachers and students across rural Ethiopia in the importance of personal hygiene.
Azeb Wondimmagege is an ORBIS trained Health Extension Worker based in southern Ethiopia. Part of her role is to educate local communities about eye care, hygiene and sanitation.
Azeb is based in Doketu - a particularly rural area of southern Ethiopia, with a population of 1,330 people.
In the relatively short period of time since Azeb was trained in eye care and she started to work in Doketu, she has seen a real improvement in the understanding of better health and hygiene.
Azeb informs people about the importance of personal hygiene and how the simple act of keeping your hands and face clean can prevent a number of diseases.
Azeb says she faces two main main challenges in her role - changing attitudes towards medicine and the shortage of water. A lack of a clean water supply means that it is difficult to encourage good personal hygiene and also improving sanitation is hard. Currently the locals have to make a two hour round trip to get water! Thankfully the attitude to medicines is an easier hurdle for Azeb as over time she has built relationships with the communities, so they are trusting her more and more and therefore her education is really making an impact on peoples attitudes.
Unfortunately, being blind in a rural village like Doketu is an extremely hard life. Doketu is a farming village, so once blind the locals will more than often lose their livelihood. They have to be lead by a member of their family and require help with most day to day chores like washing etc - therefore they also lose their independence.
Azeb explains "There is a lady in the village who became blind before ORBIS' intervention. Her older children have to help her with the younger ones, they have to go to work to provide for the family and look after their home and therefore they miss out on an education. It is a real disadvantage, not only on the individual, but their entire family".
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