It’s been so long since I’ve written, with so many things both good and bad having happened, it’s hard to know what to say as I attempt to write again.
The project is now in full swing. Every week, I’m spending 4 days and 3 nights in different villages alongside Mama Rose and other church members. Our goal is to teach health lessons that would, if implemented, considerably change the health situation and save many lives. We have 10 health lessons – HIV/AIDs & STDs, Malaria, Pneumonia, Safe Water (Diarrhea), Handling Human Waste, Handling General Waste, Maternal and Child Health, Epilepsy, Nutrition, and Sanitation and Hygiene. Each lesson is comprised of a biblical study connected to a scientific study. The lessons are relatively simple, which makes it possible for a person without formal medical training (i.e. Darriel) to give the lessons and answer the subsequent questions.
The most basic health practice embedded in a number of the lessons is hand washing. We encourage people to wash their hands with soap or ash before eating, preparing food, and after relieving their bodies (urinating or defecating). Soap or ash is important to help remove unseen germs and bacteria. The hands need something abrasive to remove the germs. Ash is a simple and good substitute for soap because it is abrasive, purified from fire, and freely available in every location. As hands are generally the sole instruments used for eating, washing hands with soap or ash becomes necessary and not just helpful.
Many people have adopted the practice of washing their hands, and mouth, with water only before eating. Soap is reserved for washing hands after eating meat to remove the resulting smell. Some people practice this behavior because they honestly don’t understand the significance. Others, particularly the younger participants, tell of me this behavior while holding back their laughter, suggesting that they already know it’s an unhealthy practice.
Attitude is perhaps the biggest hurdle to better health. Some people want to be healthy, but are not ready to adjust their habits. For those whose chronic sickness has reached the point of utter frustration, they welcome the lessons and begin making changes immediately. For those people who are slower to adapt, we try to convince them that changing their habits is in their best interests. The bible lessons help tremendously in this regard, because the lessons represent something bigger than the kawajas (foreigner or white person) but from he scriptures as well.
We’ve begun teaching the lessons village by village, setting up health committees and convincing people to pledge to live healthier lives. To date, we’ve conducted trainings in 10 centers. I was happy with one of the recent trainings when the village chief stood up and issued a decree that everyone must build a latrine. I was amazed at the chief’s sayings. In that moment, I came closer to understanding how Jonah must have felt when the King of Nineveh issued his decree after Jonah’s preaching.
This center also is also run by a pastor who is very passionate. He sincerely wanted to understand why he keeps getting intestinal worms and suffering the subsequent consequences. I told him intestinal worms, particularly the worms from which he and many others suffer, come from what is called the fecal – oral route. The fecal – oral route is a fancy way of saying that people are unwittingly digesting their own feces or the feces of other people. Flies, drinking un-purified water, and eating with unwashed hands are the greatest contributors to intestinal worms. To my surprise, the following day when we celebrated the Lord’s Super, they sent around a basin for everyone to wash their hands with soap before receiving into their hands a wafer blessed as the body of Jesus Christ.
I was very excited to see that initiative. It meant that they understood the lessons we’d been teaching and were beginning to implement them. After we teach the lessons all day on Friday and Saturday, I’m usually asked to preach on Sunday. That Sunday I preached from Duet 30:19, “This day….I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses, now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Choosing life is the entire goal of the project. We aim to teach people what a choice for life looks like, and encourage them to make that choice. Building a latrine and eating with hands washed with soap are terrific beginnings on the journey of a choice for life.