Scouts in Haiti help spread message about hand-washing


A report from Reuters.

Poor sanitation in the Caribbean nation makes some citizens worry about coronavirus spread.

In Haiti, where access to clean water is tricky and education is lacking, Scouts are taking to the streets with portable sinks to let passersby wash their hands and to teach the importance of doing so to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus.

Haitians are anxious that their densely populated nation could be especially hard hit in the pandemic, given the lack of modern sanitation and already overwhelmed health-care services.

Authorities last week declared a state of emergency, closing Haiti’s borders and shuttering schools and churches after detecting the first two coronavirus cases. As of Tuesday the country had reported that six people were infected.

Sporting khaki uniforms, the Scouts started positioning themselves two weeks ago on street corners of Port-au-Prince, the capital, with portable sinks. They connect these to the water supply of a school, church or business, or a simple bucket of water.

A woman cleans her hands at a hand-washing station in the capital. When the Scouts first set up the stations two weeks ago, many Haitians were unwilling to wash because they believed God would protect them from the novel coronavirus, according to a Scout leader. Many people have no running water in their homes. 

To attract people, the Scouts sometimes also play a catchy song, with lyrics encouraging hygiene measures to tackle the outbreak, which has infected more than 400,000 worldwide.

“The aim of the stations is to develop good habits in Haitians,” said Emmanuel Paul, 42, Scout leader for Haiti’s western region.

“The first week, many were [unwilling]; they did not want to wash their hands with the pretext that God is good and will protect us,” Paul said. “One even asked me if I believed in it.”

The hand-washing stations have been put in place in other parts of Haiti, too.

Even with the best intentions though, most Haitians do not have running water or their own tanks and have to buy it or, if they cannot afford that, use springs where the water is often contaminated.

The difficult access to clean water worsened Haiti’s recent nine-year cholera (pronounced co-lur-uh) outbreak. The United Nations said that outbreak killed nearly 10,000 people.

“Water is not easy to find in my neighborhood so that’s why I’m making the most of it now and each time I find water,” said one passerby, Roselaure Laurent, 17, who took the opportunity to wash her hands at one Scout station. “This is the first time I washed my hands today.”

The town hall of Port-au-Prince has also installed some hand washing stations in public squares and at the entrance of some public markets, but that’s not enough, Haitians say, and the state is strapped for cash.

Meanwhile, the country where thousands of nonprofit organizations have operated ever since a devastating 2010 earthquake cannot expect more help from abroad, the Scout leader said.

Paul said he hopes that people will become inspired by the Scouts’ initiative and communities will buy mobile sinks.

“Right now, all countries have problems,” Paul said, “and no one from abroad is going to come and save us.”

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