Community Health Education

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.

Chief giving decree that everyone must have a bakana (or pit latrine)

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.

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12 Responses to Community Health Education

  1. Heather says:

    Powerful post. Your point about changing attitudes and actions for better health should convict those of us who know to wash our hands but then use them to stuff our faces with junk food and not move off the couch. Love the text you preached and will think about it in a new way now. And now I think I’m inspired to go on a healthy walk as part of choosing life.

    • darrielharris says:

      Thanks Heather. Now you’re convicting me for eating cookies with washed hands. But truly, I had to begin making better health choices to really be able to teach and understand what it is I’m asking of people. It’s a challenge, for all of us.

  2. Josephine Rutledge says:

    God bless you. You are doing great work.

  3. Crystal Harris says:

    Darriel I enjoyed your blog. It is easy for us to say, “Of course they need to wash their hands.” However, while I was reading I started to reflect on my own life. There are many times when I know what I should do and just don’t feel like doing it. 😦 I need to do better also.

  4. Teresa Green says:

    It’s funny that hand washing is a HUGE message in the healthcare facilities I work at now. Can’t tell you the number of inservices, seminars, and paperwork we get on what’s seems like a small task, that essentially saves patient lives. Also, teaching length of washing is important. Most people do a 5 second splash…when research says you need 15 seconds to kill bacteria. We are taught to sing the Birthday song to ensure the right length. Maybe there is a song that would be applicable in Africa? Good read. Keep pushing!

    • 15 seconds, huh? Interesting. One of my coworkers was talking to me in the bathroom and told me I wash my hands for a long time, but I’m pretty sure I only do about 10 seconds. Good to know.

  5. Gann Herman says:

    These are wonderful stories, Darriel–all the hours of hard work that you and Mama Rose are investing will literally save lives–you are God’s instrument for peace and abundant life. Love, Gann

  6. Linnet Maloba says:

    Hi Darrel, thanks for the message and great work that you are doing for God’s people in South Sudan. My regards to Mama Rose

  7. Darriel, I enjoyed reading this. It’s awesome the work that you’re doing. Something that we consider such a small matter really is a difference between life and death. God bless the work you’re doing to help others choose life!

  8. cathy beck says:

    Darriel, It is wonderful to hear from you again. You are doing a wonderful work to help others. I pray God will continue to Bless you.

  9. Mary Jo says:

    Great to hear from you again, Darriel! You are an inspiration to so many…..

  10. Aunt Vicki says:

    Darriel, I am so proud of the work that you are doing for God’s children..”the least of these”. What an appropriate scripture to use and then to see them choose life over death simply by obeying the Word. We, who have so much and take even the simplest things in life for granted, should opt to choose life as these villagers did simply by obeying God’s Word. Awesome!!!
    I will continue to pray for you and the lives that you touch.

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