SOIL has a history of participating in international days of recognition such as World Hand Washing Day (October 15) and World Toilet Day (November 19). Many of you have joined us in sharing your #Unselfies telling what sanitation means to you.
And while these holidays come around every year, the celebration is unique each time. This year, Hand Washing Day came in the wake of Hurricane Matthew as cholera cases started to spike up yet again. Most people know that the simple habit of hand washing can prevent waterborne diseases like cholera, but it can be easy to forget to wash up before eating a snack or touching your face (I’m sure many of us have already forgotten at least once today!). And so our focus this year has been leveraging the power of community to help effect change.
To reinforce the lifesaving importance of hand washing with soap, this year SOIL partnered with Oxfam and UNICEF as well as two government ministries: DINEPA, which manages Haiti’s water and sanitation, and MSPP, the agency in charge of public health to organize an event in recognition of World Handwashing Day and the importance of hygiene.
Collaboration between sectors and across organizations was a unique and special part of this year’s hand washing day. Oxfam came with a very entertaining and lively participatory theater troupe as well as a DJ who kept everyone dancing in between acts; MSPP representatives spoke passionately about protecting community health through sanitation and led a hand washing competition; SOIL provided hand washing stations and banners and told entertaining, yet serious anecdotes about health and sanitation. Together we held a morning event in the Cap-Haitien neighborhood of Petitans and in Fort St. Michel in the afternoon.
As this was my first time participating in the planning that goes into these celebrations, I was surprised and proud to learn that SOIL is often the default choice for managing community relations when planning water and sanitation related events in and around Cap-Haitien. Having worked with SOIL for over two years, I have seen how much time and effort we put into relationship-building with clients, community-based organizations, and local leaders, but I hadn’t fully realized the impact our relationships could have beyond SOIL’s own activities.
A key part of our building strong relationships is community gatherings, which SOIL organizes and hosts regularly to ensure that we are staying in close communication and collaboration with our EkoLakay clients and with communities throughout Cap-Haitien. We provide local jobs and contracts with artists, musicians, carpenters, laborers, marketing agents, and event planners, in addition to hosting fun events like Global Hand Washing Day. And most importantly, we take the time to listen. As Sasha always says, even if you can’t resolve an issue, oftentimes just hearing someone out with an empathetic ear can provide some comfort.
All of this relationship building takes time, patience, and understanding. But these efforts pay off in that we have community buy-in and respect. It’s easy to take SOIL’s great relationships for granted, but when it comes time to plan a last minute event or respond to an emergency, it’s easy to see that SOIL is but a small seed in a larger ecosystem. We need other elements to help us grow and flourish, and we’re incredibly proud to be a part of this growing ecosystem.