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Please remember to wash your hands

21 January 2019, Impact of Our Work, Voices from the Field

As Australians, there are some things we tend to take for granted. One of those things is having access to clean, flowing water for washing our hands. All we need to do is turn on the taps and away we go

But how many of you wash them the correct way? How thorough are you? Do you always use soap? 

Go on, be honest.

Our CEO, Paul Ronalds, recently spent some time visiting our programs in Delhi, where the life-saving power of handwashing is not taken lightly. 

Image: Save the Children

So, where’s the harm in not washing your hands?

A single gram – the weight of a stick of gum or a single bank note - of human faeces, or poo, can contain one trillion germs. One trillion! It might contain Salmonella, E. coli, norovirus … nasty germs that cause diarrhoea. Or it might contain a parasite that leads to intestinal worms. One thing’s for sure, there are lots of nasty things lurking in poo – and whether you’re in Australia or overseas, not washing your hands is one sure way to spread disease. 

In low-income countries, children under three usually experience three bouts of diarrhoea every year – each time it happens, they miss out on school and can start to fall behind, and they miss out on vital nutrition needed to keep them healthy. 

It’s no small matter. When children are already suffering from underlying malnutrition, diarrhoea can be deadly. Around the world, diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death for children under the age of five. 

That’s why hygiene and handwashing are so important. All over the world Save the Children staff teach children how to wash their hands properly to help keep them safe from disease. Paul got to see this first hand in a school in Delhi, which is being supported by Save the Children.

Image: CJ Clarke/Save the Children

Schools are a good place to start because it gets kids washing their hands properly from an early age, and they can go home and share what they learned with the rest of their family. In Delhi, Save the Children is working with 40 schools to improve their water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and practices. 

Your support is keeping kids safe from disease by making this type of work happen, all over the world. 

And it’s not just about education, it’s also about access – so, as well as teaching kids about handwashing, we’re installed new drinking water and handwashing platforms with clean water and soap. Repairs have also been made to toilet blocks, so children have access to sanitary, hygienic facilities. 

Image: Minzayar Oo/Save the Children

Handwashing becomes even more vital when there’s a disaster. When facilities have been damaged or destroyed and people are living in very close quarters, it’s all too easy for diseases to spread – fast. 

That’s why Save the Children provides handwashing stations and lessons in emergencies too.

When crisis strikes, we work early on to ensure access to clean water, adequate sanitation and proper hygiene. In these settings, personal hygiene, especially handwashing, is critical to prevent the outbreak of disease. In Vanuatu, for example, when a volcano forced families to leave the island of Ambae and take refuge in evacuation centres set up on neighbouring islands, we set up child friendly spaces and hand washing stations – or what we call ‘tippy taps’, temporary handwashing stations that minimise water waste. 

Image: Robert McKechnie/Save the Children

Some describe handwashing as a ‘do-it-yourself vaccine’ – that’s how powerful the simple act of handwashing can be in protecting everyone from nasty bugs. 

Illnesses like diarrhoea might not sound too big and scary here in Australia. But in some parts of the world, it’s a big problem that can keep kids out of school and put already vulnerable lives in danger. And sometimes solutions to big problems are not big and flashy. Sometimes, they’re as simple as clean water and a bar of soap.

Stay up to date on how Save the Children is creating a world where every child has a safe and happy childhood