Global Handwashing Day

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The GHD logo : water, soap and hands, working together to promote cleanliness and prevent disease


I am willing to bet an insignificant amount of money that you did not know that today is Global Handwashing Day.

If you were unaware, as I think you almost certainly were, of GHD, that may be because it is a relatively new thing. This faintly daft, but also very sensible idea came out of the 2008  International Year of Sanitation. (Yes, really!)

As I write, I can still smell the medicated smell


My word, how times have changed! I felt most insulted by the printed message on the Izal toilet paper, telling me Please remember to wash your hands. That was back in the days when toilet paper in public facilities really was like other paper – scratchy, smooth and totally unsuitable for any attempt at cleanliness. Presumably, the manufacturers felt the need to print instructions on the stuff because there were still people who did not know that they needed to wash. I suppose it might also have been to make it seem more like the familiar torn up newspaper on a string! I wonder whether there are still any backwaters where this horrible stuff is provided to torment the delicate nether regions of helpless lavatory users.

My mother was incensed to learn that the teachers at my infant school had decided to curtail hand-washing activities because we children were enjoying the soap and water far too much. She was off down there like a shot, making her feelings felt, and hand washing was reinstated. Go mother!!

Various public places have taken to putting up signs reminding people to wash their hands, and the last company I worked for put up signs with diagrams explaining exactly how it should be done. I couldn’t help wondering how many people in this day and age need to be told.

That was until I used the facilities in a bar recently, and found that there was no water with which to wash my hands. I told the bar owner that there appeared to be a problem with his plumbing, and was astonished when he retorted, “Well that’s because we are closing, and I have turned the water off.” He was clearly miffed when I asked for some water. He handed me a small bottle of mineral water, and watched with evident disgust, as I washed my hands over the flowerbed outside. I shall not be eating food that he has prepared any time soon.

In certain areas of the world, a plentiful, clean water supply is not readily available, and there are practical reasons why people may not have habitually washed their hands. I can understand that in such areas a campaign to encourage hand washing would be a sensible idea. Disseminating knowledge about hygiene and disease prevention is obviously a good thing, especially when accompanied by help to provide clean water and adequate washing facilities.

Years ago, a friend went to South Africa, where she went to help at a project in one of the townships. She said that she had almost been moved to tears by the haunting beauty of a song the women were singing as they scrubbed and pounded the washing at their communal laundry area. One of the ladies was somewhat surprised, and translated the words for her: “You must wash your hands after you go to the toilet, or you will get dysentery.”

Although I was amused when I first found out that today had been designated a day for special ablutions, I can see that this is a serious matter, and am impressed that somebody, somewhere had the gumption to set the thing up. I am slightly less impressed that they did not organise it better: World Toilet Day is not until November 19th. Surely it would make more sense to have Handwashing day after Toilet Day. Maybe I am being picky.

So that’s how it’s done!

P.S. I note that January 28th has been designated Data Protection Day. I was going to write about that, but I have been unable to obtain any information.

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