War is dramatic. If you want evidence of that, check out tonight’s news headlines, look at the latest box office hits, or play almost any video game. We’re attracted to drama, and our global society idolizes violence. Peace is not as flashy. But it is still deadly.
Every minute, 4 children around the world die from diarrheal illnesses. Yea, they die from the problem you have after a crazy night of drinking or after eating too much cheap Mexican food. The same illness that we don’t usually have to go to the doctor to treat, we just chug the pink stuff, take an Imodium, and down a Gatorade. Yet this American inconvenience is still one of the most leading causes of death in children throughout the developing world- Central and South America, Asia, Pacific Islands, Africa, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe. It’s a universal killer, and it’s killing more babies than war.
But who really cares? 4 children die every minute just from diarrheal illness. We think, wow, that’s a lot…and then click on the next cat video. But hold on. Put down the vegan cupcake recipe for a second and lets put that into context. What does “4 children die of diarrhea every minute” mean?
If your child is in a classroom of 24 students, that entire classroom is dead within 8 minutes. If that classroom is one of 7 classes in a small elementary school, K through 6, the entire school dies within the hour. In ten weeks, the entire student body of the Chicago Public Schools is deceased and in one year the entire city of Houston, the 4th largest city in America, is gone. That is 2.1 million babies and children under the age of 5 each year. That is a Holocaust of children every 3 years.
Diarrhea causes a Holocaust of children occurring every three years.
But hold on a second- that’s such a strong word, Holocaust. It represents a tragic, painful, and devastating period in our history. Holocaust is defined as ‘any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life’. Is it really appropriate in this context?
The earliest recorded evidence of soap dates back to 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. Soap has been around for over 4000 years, and yet to this day millions of people are dying because although we’ve managed to spread the good news of modern religion, democracy, Facebook, and Whatsapp, the lifesaving message of soap hasn’t gotten through. Every week I see families with smart phones who believe they cannot afford soap. What is that, other than a reckless destruction of life? Almost half of the mothers in my previous community had lost at least one child very young to illness. What is more tragic, painful, and devastating than losing your child?
|My baby host brother|
Every kid learns about the Jewish Holocaust in his or her social studies classes. Why don’t we ever hear about the ongoing Child Holocaust happening around us every day? I’m not here to point fingers or blame specific person or group for this, because personal behavior change at this level is hard. It is really, really hard. No matter what they do, governments, institutions, non-profits, businesses, schools, and families can’t do it alone. It takes systemic change, on all levels.
Today is Global Handwashing Day. Today, all over the world, children, schools, nonprofits, businesses, and governments celebrate the importance and the dire need for hand washing with soap, because despite all of the technological advances of the last several centuries, it is still the most effective weapon against diarrheal and respiratory illness. Just one gram of poop can contain 10 million viruses and 1 million bacteria. And yet 4 out of 5 people in the world still consider hand washing optional, irrelevant, or too expensive. 4 out of 5 people in the world don’t wash their hands after “using the bathroom”.
Let’s look at the Stats:
Hand washing with soap reduces diarrheal disease transmission by 44%- more effective than any water treatment, sanitation infrastructure, or other hygiene education.
The impact of $8,000 invested in vaccinations against diarrheal diseases (Cholera, Rotavirus, Measles) is EQUAL to
$200 invested in household water systems is EQUAL to
$11 invested in latrine construction is EQUAL to
$3.35 invested in Hand washing promotion and adoption.
Hand washing with soap is the most effective tool we have to prevent diarrhea, parasites, worms, the common cold, flu, cholera, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and even Ebola. Today, and every day, wash your hands with soap for 30 seconds every time you use the bathroom and sit down to eat. Then teach a child to do the same. You could literally be saving their life.
|My Ultimate team waves farewell!|
Ok, so diarrhea, hand washing, and those amazing kids I play Frisbee with get me all sorts of upset. But it’s not all negative, and hand washing can be a lot of fun. All over the world today there are poetry slams, artwork contests, skits, songs, parades, games, and activities happening to in honor of hand washing. This week kids in Panama are making art about hand washing in hopes to get their drawings published in a book. We’re doing finger paint activities with preschoolers to teach hand washing and making actors out of 6th graders to role-play positive peer pressure. I’m sure there are other activities happening with better ideas that I don’t even know about yet.
While the silence around this terrible, there is tremendous good news. We have the power to cut this Holocaust in HALF through the simple use of soap and our voices. I can, you can, and we all can make sustainable, impactful, and lasting change when it comes to improving the health of children all over the world. No fancy college degree, public office, lucrative wealth, or complicated technology required. Just wash your hands with soap for 30 seconds after using the bathroom and before handling food, and make it socially unacceptable for your family and friends not to do the same. We can use peer pressure for positive change for once.
Look at the clock again. Now what time is it? How many minutes have passed since you started reading this? Multiple it by 4 and that’s how many kids we lost while you read my angry, preachy blog post. May their souls rest in peace and may they someday forgive us for our apathy and ignorance.
For more information and resources on Global Handwashing Day, check out these links:
TED Talk: Myriam Sidibe, The Simple Power of Hand Washing
Global Handwashing Day website
and to help you remember how to hand wash, One Republic made a great video