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Students in Malawi learn the importance of hand-washing

Special Olympics athletes in Malawi learn the importance of hygiene, despite having no running water. Hand-washing is critical to eliminate cross-contamination and stop the spread of bacteria and disease.

Special Olympics Healthy Athletes programs around the world often must adjust to local situations when implementing events, but in Malawi, the organizers of a program funded through a Health Promotion community-based grant took creative problem-solving to new heights when teaching hygiene at the Kalema Primary School. By inverting plastic, water-filled Coke bottles and creating a tap, they illustrated hand-washing techniques to more than 40 Special Olympics athletes and their parents and coaches, despite no running water.

“Prior to this idea, very few athletes were washing hands due to the unreliable water sources which were available,” said Felix Chisowa, Acting Country Director for Special Olympics Malawi.

Hygiene is a concern in many places in Africa. The lack of effective hand-washing contributes to high rates of intestinal, respiratory, and other diseases and infections, particularly among children. Thanks to this Special Olympics and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded program, however, athletes and their families in Kalema are better educated and aware of the dangers of poor hygiene. In addition to the demonstration of how to wash their hands, athletes were educated on how clean hands means lowered levels of cross-infection and risk of contracting infectious diseases and parasites. Finally, they and their families were given equipment and other resources, including soap to take home.

“We distributed soap as an encouragement. Some athletes and family members had soap at home but very few were washing hands with it,” Felix said.

The hygiene demonstrations were a part of a larger project that also focused on nutrition and included growing vegetables. Read more about this aspect of the project here, and see more photos of this project on the Healthy Athletes flickr page.

Read more news from Healthy Athletes in the program’s newsletter and the Healthy Athletes Facebook page.

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