I could see a group of mothers and their children standing outside the gate of the turquoise-colored school building, still half-shrouded in the morning mist. The kids were so small and scared – especially terrified of the tall white lady (me) with the camera.
It was hard to imagine them starting kindergarten, because they were so tiny. But in rural Guatemala, where Food for the Hungry (FH) was registering these children into our program, rampant malnutrition was stunting their growth.
And malnutrition also leaves them more vulnerable to disease. Coming to school meant they’d mix with large groups of kids, swapping germs and viruses all day.
As the children and moms worked with FH’s staff, their fear melted away. Our community workers talked them quietly through filling out the registration forms with each family. We took the kids’ pictures. It was probably the first time the children had been photographed. Afterward, the little ones moved to a small pint-sized table where they drew the pictures that would be sent to their first sponsors. The kids shared colored pencils and crayons to create brightly-hued drawings of their houses, churches, chickens and goats, surrounded by Guatemala’s beautiful mountains.
But they weren’t done when they finished drawing. I noticed our members gently taking each child’s hand, and walking them over to the big cement sink at the edge of the playground. The staff members took a child-sized bar of soap and showed each little one how to wash their hands. “They’ve been sharing the pencils and crayons,” one staffer pointed out. “We don’t want them getting sick.”
Studies have shown that the simple act of washing hands after going to the bathroom can lower rates of diarrhea in a community by as much as 47 percent. And respiratory diseases can be cut by as much as 30 percent. Diarrhea and respiratory infections are two of the biggest killers of children worldwide.
With that first formal hand-washing lesson, these precious children were on their way to a healthier life. FH would also teach their moms about hand-washing, so that the whole family could adopt healthier practices. FH taught teachers how to incorporate hand-washing into the daily school routine.
It’s pretty amazing that the equation is so simple. Water plus soap, on two little hands, can keep a kid alive. You can also keep a kid alive by providing a tippy tap. It’s a hand-washing station made from a bar of soap, water jug and string. For $8, it’s a great way to help people maintain good health.