Graduates W.A.S.H. Their Way to a Healthier Future

05/31/13

They gathered from five Dominican slums. Once from rival communities with opposing gangs and enmities that went back for generations, the graduates showed no tension as they laughed and congratulated each other. 

 
Teenagers and parents from five communities gather for the WASH graduation
    Teenagers and parents from the five communities COTN serves gather for their WASH graduation ceremony.
 
After a year of meeting together to learn about better hygiene and sanitation practices, 110 adults and teenagers were ready to officially graduate from their Community Health Clubs. Almost all of the students showed up, sporting everything from their fanciest dresses to matching club T-shirts. 
 
"The graduation was a rousing success," reports Jason Rosenfeld, a Global Health Coordinator at the University of Texas Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics. In partnership with Children of the Nations (COTN), Jason has overseen a new Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) program in the communities we serve in the Dominican Republic. 
 
The secret to this program's success has been the way it relies on local ownership and leadership. Each Community Health Club is run by a local community member. The leaders started out with a week of training on sanitation and hygiene principles, and learned how to organize and lead a health club. They then served as a club facilitator, running weekly meetings in their communities, where they taught club members about everything from fire safety to how diarrhea is contracted. 
 
Jason Rosenfeld presents posters capturing the public health data collected
Jason Rosenfeld presents the club facilitators with posters capturing some of the public health data they collected in their community.
 
At the end of it all, graduation day was their chance to be recognized for their hard work—not only showing up every week to learn new health practices, but implementing what they learned in their own households as well. 
 
Health club members received graduation certificates
Health club members received graduation certificates for attending every club session and implementing what they learned in their homes.
 
One of the first projects for each new club had been to create a group song. So after a warm welcome from COTN¬–Dominican Republic Country Director Francisco Tejeda, each health club presented their song. After the songs came skits, each group addressing a different health concern through acting.
 
A health club presents a skit about dengue fever, a common disease in the DR
                A health club presents a skit about dengue fever, a common disease transmitted by mosquitos. 
 
By the end of the ceremony, everyone had been officially recognized, and proudly held their certificate. The Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics is now processing data collected before and after the program, to determine how effective the program was. 
 
But the graduates don't need data to know the program has made a big difference in their everyday health. They notice their children getting sick less—and being able to go to school more—already. "I am very grateful because I have learned a lot about hygiene, thank you," says Ortenencia of the Los Robles Community Health Club.  "We no longer have diarrhea," adds another member.  
 
Members of the health club of Los Robles pose with their matching shirts
Members of the community health club of Los Robles pose with their matching T-shirts, which read "salud total" or "total health." 
 
The graduation was a wonderful celebration of the members' achievements, and of people like you, who make programs like this possible.  Thank you!