We had heard rumours that the road to Soccma was closed due to landslides, but we decided to chance it anyway. A week ago we were deterred by similar rumors that turned out to be grossly exaggerated. Most importantly, we knew that the children of Soccma would be expecting us.
We usually rely on our local promotoras (community health workers) to teach. Since Soccma does not yet have promotoras, we instead relied on the newly graduated nurses visiting from the University of Rochester. Soccma is a small town, and its school boasts only 14 students, so we were able to bring them as a group through all of our stations. We began by recording students’ heights and weights, and counting their cavities – this is baseline data which will indicate current rates of malnutrition and eventually enable us to measure the impact of our promotora program.
The children then hurtled off to a station that where they learned to wash their hands and to use a homemade device called a Tippy Tap, which conserves water and minimizes the spread of bacteria. We began by discussing the reasons behind hand washing (“so you don’t start pooping everywhere” was a popular answer), when we should wash our hands, and how to do so. The nurses taught the 7 steps of washing: “Get your hands wet, get some soap, wash your palms, your fingers and the back of your hands, scrub those thumbs, and don’t forget the fingernails!” Then the nurses asked the children to teach it back to them in order to demonstrate understanding. We dubbed the kids “professors of hand washing” and told them it was now their duty to teach their friends and family.
The Tippy Tap, a wonder of public health innovation, is a portable hands-free washing station made of two plastic bottles, three pieces of string, one bit of soap, and a stick. It’s ideal for situations where there is no running water. We spent some time going over how to make a Tippy Tap and then the children proceeded to wash their hands.
We finished up our health campaign with tooth brushing – it is a special sight to see 14 children furiously brushing every corner of their mouths. At the end of the day, we met the district’s new director of social development, who was delivering computers, printers and DVD players to the school. It is exciting that the school is getting this equipment, and also incongruous given that the community has many basic needs – particularly around food security and sanitation – that are not being met. We planned a meeting with director to discuss ways that we can work together to promote health in the remote communities.
Given that this was Keri’s last day in Ollantaytambo and that her birthday was the following day, we sang happy birthday and served a surprise birthday cake on a mountainside overlooking one of the many stunning valleys surrounding our home.
— Written by Stewart Decker