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How to Explain the Importance of Handwashing 

Germs Are EverywhereChild washing hands in Burundi

As you go about your day, you touch thousands of surfaces and objects. As you scroll on your iPhone. Open the fridge for a snack. Type on your computer keyboard. Clean up the Cheerios your toddler threw on the floor. Take the dog for a walk around the block. Complete hygiene routines like brushing your teeth, using the toilet, or blowing your nose. All of these actions cause you to accumulate germs on your hands. These germs can enter your body when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, and you can spread them to others.

It may be impossible to prevent picking up germs altogether, but there’s one way you can easily prevent yourself from spreading them. By washing your hands, and doing it thoroughly and often. It’s one of the best ways to keep yourself and others from getting sick. 

Handwashing is Life-Saving

And while handwashing is an effective way to ward off the flu or common cold, it’s also a life-saving measure (check out the World Health Organization (WHO) for instructions on how to wash your hands most effectively). Because if everyone washed their hands with soap and water, millions of children who die from lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene could grow up healthy and reach their full potential. 

Because of this, handwashing is a really important part of our work at Food for the Hungry (FH). This means ensuring that everyone has access to clean water and soap close to their home. But it also requires talking with people about why handwashing is important, and how to do it right. Even though water is plentiful, even 40% of American adults do not always wash their hands after using the bathroom. In fact, the lessons FH staff share with the people we serve might be just as applicable here too!

Here are a few questions FH staff ask families in the discussion about the importance of hygiene practices such as handwashing:

1. Would you serve your family poop for dinner?

You’re likely thinking, “Ew! Of course not!” And whether they are in Uganda, Cambodia, or Guatemala, parents everywhere say the same. But when FH facilitators talk with families about home hygiene, they remind us: If you use the bathroom or change a diaper and don’t wash your hands with soap, even hands that look clean have remnants of feces on them. From then on, everything you touch does too… including food! Every meal you serve is then full of germs that cause diarrhea and other illnesses. So…if you wouldn’t feed your family poop, wash your hands!

2. Can you see if something is clean?

If I added just a single speck of poop to a gallon of water, would you want to drink it? Nope! It might look crystal clear, but you know that one speck of poop makes it undrinkable. Even water that looks clean can be dirty if it comes from a source that isn’t protected — like a sparkling river or stream. Similarly, washing your hands with water alone might make your hands appear clean, but it’s because your eyes can’t see tiny germs. The only way to trust that your hands are truly clean is if you use soap! 

A young boy in Rwanda practices good handwashing habits!


3. What does your faith teach you about sickness and health?

Do you believe that people are able to prevent illnesses? Are you capable of taking action to change the wellbeing of your family? I hope you said yes! But maybe you, like many people around the world, thought “There are forces outside of my control!” It’s true that there are a lot of factors in life that are bigger than we are. But there is good news! God tells us that we have authority over creation. Germs in water, our homes, or in our bodies are not meant to scare or overpower us. Instead, God has given us tools and ways, such as handwashing, that we can use to conquer sickness and bad health. 

4. How can you make something easy?

How do you avoid eating sugary snacks when on a diet? You take them out of the home and replace them with vegetables! In other words, you make it easy to make a good choice. Like with any habit, remembering to wash your hands is all about reminding yourself of the good choice. We encourage the people we serve, who may not have sinks in a bathroom, to set up handwashing stations with soap and water right next to their latrines (toilets). For others, it may be as simple as putting up a sign on the bathroom door. “Don’t forget to wash your hands!” These little reminders make it harder to forget. And for kids, singing a song while washing their hands can help build a fun routine and prevent rushing.

At the end of the day… washing your hands is loving your neighbor!

As you interact with people at work, school, or in your family, you want to keep them safe and healthy too! As our FH facilitators remind the people we serve, if everyone washes their hands, everyone will be protected from illness! That is how you build healthier communities. 

And you can love your neighbor today by supporting FH’s ongoing health programs. We want everyone to have access to life-saving resources like clean water, and the knowledge of how to practice good hygiene, as well as other essentials. Support FH’s work in these areas by giving to where it’s needed most.

More about FH’s work in health and clean water:

On the Frontlines: Preventing Coronavirus in Cox’s Bazar

8 Myths About Clean Water Around the World

Farming Families in Burundi Experience A Story of Hope