On October 15, 2019, Amechi, Awkunanaw in Enugu South Local Government Area hosted Her Excellency Monica Ugwuanyi, the wife of the state Governor. It was a visit that suddenly shot the sleepy town of Amaechi into the focus of social media. The intense glare of the social media on the visit of Her Excellency was obviously for the wrong reasons as it turned out, but Amechi could actually do with more of such visits.
Mrs Ugwuanyi had visited Amechi, one of 10 communities in the local government area. The visit was under the auspices of her nonprofit organization, Ugo Touch Of Life Foundation, (UTOLF); and in response to the Global Hand Washing campaign.
The Global Handwashing Day is an annual global event that is dedicated to the pursuit of the ideals of improvements in personal hygiene and general cleanliness. As the name implies, it is simply a campaign to promote hand washing; effectively washing the hands with soap is an affordable way of preventing diseases and saving lives.
The global campaign started since 2008, was founded by the Global Handwashing Partnership, “and is an opportunity to design, test, and replicate creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times.”Since it started 11 years ago, billions of children around the world have washed their hands every October 15, in over 80 countries, including Nigeria.
Last October 15, children from Amechi Primary School, joined their mates elsewhere in the world to wash their hands with soap and water. Mrs Ugwuanyi and her NGO brought the word to those children, who most likely, do not have the habit of washing their hands with soap and water before eating their snacks or lunch at school. And if they had the awareness, it is possible that the school doesn’t have even a source of water. One interesting aspect of the Global Handwashing Day is that community leaders and national leaders have used the occasion to erect sinks and tippy taps, to demonstrate the simplicity and value of clean hands.
The Global Handwashing Day has definitely come to stay; it is endorsed by governments, civil society organizations and nonprofit organizations, international institutions, corporate bodies and even individuals.
There is no doubt that the pupils of Amechi Primary School were oblivious of the rants on social media. For them and their parents, what was more important was the reinforcement of the habit of hand washing and the health implications. The hand washing campaign and the creative Tippy Tap wasn’t a project. It was another example of the concern of Her Excellency in bettering the lives of the people. The welfare of families have become her concern. Her identification with advocacies and campaigns that touch the lives of people have endeared her to families, women and children in the state.
This is not a response to the uninformed comments and criticisms that trailed her visit to Amechi Primary School, which symptomatic of the times. As one of those who ensured that the visit was made to the Amechi Primary School, I was looking at the children, our future, the next generation of leaders. In that school were future governors, senators, local government chairmen, mothers and fathers. They no doubt need to understand that it takes people of concern to change things around them; they need to know that those with their future in mind are around them and such concerns and initiatives do not come in well packaged multi million naira projects as many of the advocates on social media believed.
A sleepy town like Amechi is faced with quiet concerns. Washing of hands might not be a big deal in the metropolis, but it might be in a rural area. Hygiene is an issue because improper disposal of human feaces is a common source of diarrhea, typhoid, gastro-enteric infections amongst others. The hand is the part of the body that comes in contact with human faeces and will most likely cause an infection to our body if it is not washed with soap and water.
An unwashed dirty hand is as much a danger to the body as a vision-less leadership is in the grassroots. It becomes more worrisome when we realise that those who are busy criticizing Mrs Ugwuanyi’s participation in a global advocacy were those who were supposed to know better. The Tippy Tap is creative technology and not rocket science; the sort of leadership the people need is one that recognizes their immediate needs and offers it with the minimal fuss in recognition of the circumstances of the people. The pupils in Amaechi Primary School might not have access to reticulated water, but today, they have the awareness to wash their hands. It is how big things start: small. The Tippy Tap is an euphemism for awareness of life saving principles. We need leaders in Enugu South Local Government Area and Amechi community to adopt the principle of Tippy Tap in grassroots governance.
Respiratory tract and diarrhea like infections are the two biggest killers of children in developing countries and the only way of abating it is through a populace sensitized on a regular hand washing tradition with soap. These are the issues an enlightened populace will take away from the Global Hand Washing advocacy by Mrs. Ugwuanyi.Discerning members of the society will understand that Her Excellency and UTOLF made a positive intervention in governance by organising a campaign on preventive medicine rather than curative medicine that is our business as usual.
Today, it is obvious that the psyche of the average Nigerian is designed to see elephant sized structures as an indices for success and development.Beside the Amechi Primary School is a giant overhead tank with perhaps a capacity for thousands of litres of water. There is maybe a borehole or a source of water. That’s certainly good intentions; but to the best of my knowledge, that overhead tank does not function. The culture of Tippy Tap is a culture where simple things simply work. That’s our advocacy.
To Her Excellency, I ask for one thing: Please forgive your traducers for they know not what they were saying. I thank you and UTOLF for gracing my community with the Global Hand Washing campaign. We promise you the simple act of hand washing will lead to other good habits in the lives of out children. For one, we look to see a reduced queue at the sick bays. We look to see more hand washing centers in the village squares and family compounds. I need not restate the fact that the impact of the October 15, 2019 campaign is positively reverberating in Amechi Awkunanaw. The wind will certainly carry the good news beyond Amechi to other communities in Enugu South Local Government Area.
There are a lot of positives to take from the uninformed criticisms. One is that the hand washing awareness has heightened in Amechi and beyond and those who had hitherto ignored the advocacy of UTOLF are having second thoughts. Incidentally, on a rather very personal note, some friends and kinsmen in the diaspora, who were shocked by the bashing, and after proper enlightenment, have pledged to contribute their quota to the ideals of UTOLF. While we in Amechi Awkunanaw, implore you to come again with your organization, we ask that the Almighty God hear the prayers of those innocent children and strengthen you.
Nyia writes from Enugu.