When do you wash your hands in your daily life? While the answer may vary from person to person, in Japan we usually teach our children to wash their hands before a meal, after using the toilet and when they return home.
Wiping buttocks by hand
In the Republic of Sudan, a Muslim country in eastern Africa 10,000 kilometers away from Japan, it is common to wash hands before 5 daily prayers, after a meal and during excretion. During excretion, the left hand is used to wipe the buttocks. Except for a few houses in the capital, Khartoum, with a shower to wipe their buttocks during excretion, a watering container called “ibrig” is used instead of toilet paper. After excretion in a Japanese-style toilet, water is poured from the ibrig onto one’s left hand and it is used to wash the buttocks. Only after that are the hands washed. People who wash their buttocks in this way end up putting on their underwear while their buttocks are still wet; however, this is not a problem since Sudan is a country with high temperature and low humidity and their buttocks will be dry quickly.
Many people in Sudan also excrete outdoors without using a toilet. AAR Japan has been actively involved in Agdoub and Sinkat Kinaab villages in the Reefi Kassala locality of Kassala State. In these villages, most dwellings do not have a toilet, and the local people excrete in a bush. The excrement does not have a bad smell because it dries at once, but the excrement often combines with sand and becomes airborne, scattering various germs. Compounding the problem, local people have to take a bus to travel to a hospital in Kassala City for treatment as there are no hospitals in their community. Moreover, they cannot depend on the bus, since it runs on an irregular basis and the service is often disrupted due to bad road conditions caused by rain. In Sudan, even now, one out of ten children die before their fifth birthday.
A toilet for every household
In order to improve such bad hygienic conditions that put the villagers’ health at risk, AAR set up a hygiene committee comprised of 15 members, both male and female. During a 5-day workshop, the committee members learned about the problems concerning the village and discussed possible activities that everyone could take up in order to improve their living conditions. Consequently, they all agreed that a toilet is necessary in every household. With the members of the committee as leaders, villagers of the two villages started to dig pits in every household to be used as a toilet. Using shovels and other tools provided by AAR Japan, they dug a pit with a depth of more than three meters within their premises or outside and covered it with a lid. The lid is designed to have a small hole through which they can relieve themselves and can be used for approximately five years before needing to be replaced. To complete the toilet, a fence is made around the pit using branches. More than 100 households have already started to dig a hole for a toilet, but digging in the sun is a difficult task and things don’t always go as planned. In one instance a half-finished pit was buried in mud after a flood during the rainy season. The villages often have a heavy rainfall in the rainy season and up to 160,000 local people have been victims of flooding. Because of this, some people have become reluctant to dig a hole for the toilet saying, “Even if we make one, it will be destroyed by flooding”.
Women’s ambition: We’ll change our environment
It is far from easy to change a lifestyle. In addition, even though the villagers are fully aware of the bad hygiene situation, they are reluctant to start to improve the situation if it involves hard work. On the other hand, more and more toilets have been installed and the situation is improving. What is surprising is that it is the women and children, not the men, who voice their opinions in the workshop and continue digging a pit for their toilet. Walking across the village, many villagers say, “Come and take a look at our pit. It has become deeper.” Of the seven completed pits in this village, six pits have been constructed with a concrete cover with the cost being shared among the villagers. It would have been easier to make do with something handy such as branches, but the women persuaded the men by saying, “If we are going to dig a pit for our toilet, we should build a solid one that won’t be destroyed by torrential rain.” Zaynab (35 years old, pictured right) looks very proud to have completed the toilet with a concrete cover earlier than anyone else. It makes us very happy to see.
Saving more lives
As you can see in the picture, in addition to supporting the task of installing a toilet, AAR staff themselves have installed toilets and have been teaching the schoolchildren how to use it properly. Also, using primary schools and individual houses, AAR has held workshops to teach local people about hygiene and their behavior, such as washing their hands before, as well as after, meals to prevent various germs from entering the body. We also give them practical advice, such as how to wash their hands with soap and how to keep food away from flies. Indeed, changing behavior is quite a challenge but with gradual change, step-by-step, we want to save more lives. With this ambition at the forefront, AAR has been and will be tackling the issues of hygiene in Sudan hand-in-hand with the local residents.