Have you ever taken a pause to consider…
- How many sinks do you have in your home? 🚰
- How many times a day do you wash your hands? 💦
- How often do you go without access to reliable water? 💧
Without a doubt, most of us take access to clean water and sanitation for granted. It’s a rare occasion to be unexpectedly without potable water or without indoor plumbing for extended periods of time. The ease of daily life screeches to a halt if we lose access to running water.
“In rural China, 24% of people still live without access to basic sanitation facilities, and 12% live without access to a reliable source of clean drinking water,” shares CWEF executive director Josh Lange.
And yet, millions of people throughout the world do not have a dependable source for clean water. When this basic human need is met, health dramatically improves in communities. Not only do illnesses and diseases decrease but overall health and wellbeing improve. Sanitary practices and hygiene instruction must also be taught and passed on to create sustained health within a community.
According to Josh Lange, executive director of Concordia Welfare & Education Foundation (CWEF), “In rural China, 24% of people still live without access to basic sanitation facilities, and 12% live without access to a reliable source of clean drinking water.” Globally, the socio-economic and health impact of clean water and proper sanitation are profound. Josh goes on to share that worldwide is it estimated that if proper handwashing was practiced, “we could cut the incidence of diarrhea in half and reduce respiratory infections by 25%.”
Imagine the challenge of sanitary living if you don’t have a ready source of clean water! The global COVID-19 crisis brought the importance of proper hand washing into clear focus. For many years, proper hand washing has been a cornerstone of CWEF’s health and hygiene strategy, coupled with constructing clean water and sanitary facility infrastructures in rural areas of Asia. The whole world over, teaching children to properly wash their hands…and to remember to do it…takes intention and repetition. CWEF has been a long-time champion of health education.
Students Advocating Health through HEAL
In China’s Yunnan province, CWEF’s HEAL (Health Education, Advocacy & Literacy) project trains community leaders and student leaders to be Health Advocates. These advocates lead health education initiatives by sharing information about health and hygiene issues and model good habits like hand washing and tooth brushing to improve health and prevent illnesses. The HEAL project’s combination of improved facilities, health awareness, and good hygiene habits results in stronger, healthier communities long-term.
Besides the tangible and life-changing impact of HEAL projects in a community, my favorite aspect of the approach is the training of student Health Advocates. Student leaders are selected from within a school community and provided special training on topics like healthy diet and nutrition, keeping a sanitary environment, oral hygiene, bacteria and contaminant transmission, and proper hand washing. In recent times, they also teach and highlight virus prevention efforts including proper mask wearing and hand sanitation.
The Power of Peer Mentors—Jianming’s story
“I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand,” is a well-known Chinese proverb attributed to Confucius. This saying underscores the power of intentionally involving children as peer mentors. These young Health Advocates teach their peers and serve as role models in daily life—avoiding junk food, and practicing good personal cleanliness and care. Both the Health Advocates and their peers are empowered by this approach.
CWEF’s senior programs director Jenny Chu reflects, “There is a great advantage to training young health advocates since they easily learn and can change their behavior.”
Jianming was 16 years old when he had the opportunity to become a Health Advocate. His level of education and personal potential were evident, but he was overcome by anxiety during the screening process. Jianming, who is from the minority Miao people group, has many responsibilities to help his family with farming in addition to schooling. He was given the chance to receive the two full-day trainings to become a Health Advocate. Upon completion Jianming started leading health trainings in his village. He has gained confidence and is confident and effective when instructing others.
Jenny Chu shares, “Jianming is looked up to by his peers and has earned respect within his community. He takes his role very seriously and is passionate about helping others. Although his family needs his help on the farm, they see the good he is doing and his potential and allow him to continue his work as Health Advocate.” You can read more about Jianming’s story here.
Our Family Service Project in Rural China
In 2014, our family took a service trip to a mountainous, remote area in southern Yunnan province, near the border of Vietnam. We led English activities for around 400 primary students and also helped with hygiene lessons at a CWEF education project site. Elena was in Grade 4 at the time, giving her the opportunity to interact with children her own age in a very unique setting.
“I enjoyed teaching a lot. Teaching the body parts and leading the song, ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ was fun. It was cool to see how fast they learned new words. I also liked seeing a new part of China,” shared Elena at nine years old.
The mountainous area is home to people from the Miao minority people group. The children speak Miao at home and learn Mandarin at school. Approximately 100 children board at the school during the week, since they live quite a distance from the school. In addition to the English language activities, each of the boarding children received a bar of soap, new toothbrush, toothpaste and hygiene lessons on handwashing and tooth brushing.
After the trip nine-year-old Elena wrote, “I enjoyed teaching a lot. Teaching the body parts and leading the song, ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ was fun. It was cool to see how fast they learned new words. I also liked seeing a new part of China. It was fun getting to do different things like seeing the minority people groups. I was really surprised by the villages and how they lived with so little. The kids were happy even though they didn’t have much. I also discovered a new favorite food—Yunnan hot pot.”
As a mom, I was astounded to see Elena’s confidence and sincerity in teaching lessons and activities for her same-age peers and children who were even older. In one class, she stood in front of a room of 62 students! While the school setting couldn’t have been more different than her own school, Elena benefitted greatly from the interaction with the students and gaining a deeper understanding of the world. Being stretched out of her comfort zone, she was able to overcome her reluctance to try something new.
Looking back today as a high schooler, Elena shares, “I am now able to fully realize how special that experience was. Being able to teach other children – just like me – healthy habits, specifically habits that would have a great impact on their lives is really extraordinary. Thinking back on my experience interacting with the kids reminds me that life isn’t all about material things. Their smiles were so genuine and infectious!”
Your participation in inspiringinvolvement.com is also making a difference in rural China. For more than 10 years our family has been supporting health and education projects led by Concordia Welfare & Education Foundation (CWEF) in a variety of ways. I serve on its Board of Councillors and both Elena and I get involved with project support through helping with communications. We have chosen to donate 10% of the profits from this site to support HEAL projects in Yunnan, China. It is a successful model of poverty alleviation efforts that address Goal 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation” from the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
I believe the HEAL project is a shining example of inspiring involvement—sustainable, life-improving change taking place by empowering young people to bring health and hope to their own village. Students are using their knowledge and skills to make a tangible difference in their families and communities. You can learn more about the HEAL project at www.cwef.org.hk. With its vision statement aiming for a world of thriving communities, serving and inspiring hope in others, CWEF partners with individuals, schools, churches, and local nonprofits to “improve health outcomes and increase access to education.”