Friday, September 18, 2009

I Blew out my flipflop and ...

Hi there. Welcome to Friday . I am almost done writing a blog about compassion and compassionate choices, and it will be posted soon. In the meantime I wanted to send you a copy of a good blog our good friend Jason Brooks just posted about health and hygiene. They are out here working in Niger too and we think they are awesome. I am stealing your blog Jason- well written! I thought my readers would enjoy it as well considering we have the same things happen to us!




I Blew out my flipflop and ...

Some needs you become aware of because you read about them and others because they touch you personally... Like on the foot...

This morning I was taking the kids to school and we had a flat tire. OK, not an uncommon experience in Niger. Not only are the roads terrible, but because there is no real system of garbage disposal there is all sorts of debris that can easily puncture a tire.

Today was a little more complicated because I was driving a friend’s car, a little Toyota station wagon that virtually skims along the top of the sand on worn out suspension and bald tires. I wasn’t even sure we had a spare, and my relief at discovering we did in fact have one, soon evaporated when I saw its condition.

Fortunately we had only gotten a few hundred feet from the front of our house so our guard ran up right then to lend a hand. He just shook his head when he saw the spare. Not only was it lacking in tread, but it was extremely dry-rotted, and nearly flat. He took the spare down to get it properly inflated at the nearest tire repair stand. Out of necessity there is a tire repair stand about every 100 yards in the city, so it was not hard to find one. Most of the guys who run them sleep there, so after waking up a “technician” it was soon inflated and ready to do its duty.

It was then that I knelt down to start jacking up the car and was affronted by a very heinous smell. It was the smell of excrement. Sure enough there was a swarm of flies already forming around my left foot. I had stepped in someone’s diarrhea. Yes, I said "someone’s," not "something’s". This was of the human variety and this person needed to see a doctor immediately. A good course of Flagentyl was in order.

It was then that I realize we had stopped in the toilet spot at one end of our street. We were literally surrounded. Yes, at both ends of the short street in front of our house there are areas where people do their business, and I was kneeling in one of them trying to change a tire.

Yes, this is disgusting, but most of all it is sad. People are not just being gross and unsanitary, they lack the dignity afforded by proper sanitation. Only 8% of people in the country have access to sanitation facilities. That means more than 9 out of 10 people have to go to the toilet on the ground.

Nine out of ten grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, boys and girls have to leave the place where they live, walk out into the neighbourhood, and relieve themselves somewhere on the ground. It is not only undignified, it is dangerous. According to many sources, contaminated water accounts for over 80% of illnesses leading to hospitalization, in the developing world. I don’t have to tell you that human excrement is the number one contaminant in these same places. A large scale sewer system is out of the realm of possibility. For an idea of the challenge, the United States has not been able to solve its sewer problems in Washington DC due to the cost of overhauling an out-of-date and overtaxed system. Of course, in Washington water still flows, and is at least treated.

It makes me realize that for those of us involved with rural development the challenges of an increasingly urban world are huge. In villages we simply dig pit latrines and install deep boreholes. Literally with these small investments, and some education, the quality of life can increase exponentially as people enjoy better heath and the benefits that it brings to work, education and economy.

As I washed and re-washed my sandaled foot I thought of one of my employees that I had visited the day before. His youngest child was very ill. It turned out she had dysentery and parasites, and was taking Flagentyl. They live is a one-room mud you have to cross over two sewer ditches to get to. They share a courtyard with several families and literally scores of children. Needless to say plumbing is out of the question.

As I walked back to their little urban hut I stepped over and through piles of garbage, and Lord-knows-what, and I thought – how can I help this man’s family to insure that his children have a chance of making it adulthood? We have talked to them about oral rehydration salts (ORS) and how to administer it during the continual bouts of diarrhea, but what is the long-term solution? I guess for me I can just watch where I step. I have the luxury of avoidance and water filters. For them there is no avoiding the problems of illness that claim one in four children under age five in Niger. I told him to call me if the little one does not start to get better, but we want to do more to help families in urban and rural Niger to protect their little ones from illness. Please pray for our water and sanitation projects and for the children of Niger.

No comments :