USA (MNN) — One look at the calendar might induce a double-take. November 19th is World Toilet Day, and while it may bring a curious smile to faces, the message of hope through hygiene is a serious one. And Gary Edmonds of Food for the Hungry says the focus on sanitation and hygiene is improving lives in some of the world’s most difficult places.
“At Food for the Hungry, one of the major components of our work addresses health issues. We talk repeatedly about what we call the WASH programs. WASH simply means water, sanitation, and hygiene. That might sound strange to those of us who live in the United States, but we need to realize that when we go into impoverished countries, many people there are repeatedly impacted by the invisible.”
Edmonds uses “the invisible” to describe water-born disease and illnesses. Food for the Hungry programs include both education on hygiene and instruction on building simple pit latrines and tippy-tap washing systems.
“It’s taking people and teaching them what hygiene actually brings about,” he shares. “It’s teaching them about the invisible aspects of health, to eradicate or eliminate or reduce the impact of disease in their lives.”
Edmonds says the introduction of pit latrines into a community is often met with curiosity. “One of the first things we’ll address when we go into a refugee camp is how to help them stay clean [and] have appropriate sanitation in those environments. In some circumstances, the people have no idea what a pit latrine is, and so when these were built, when they were brought in, they thought they were a chicken coop or they thought that they were a storage cabinet.”
But when WASH programs are introduced and embraced by communities, the impact to health is significant. “Our goal is to help move people to a place of sustainability, move to a place where they can take care of themselves,” says Edmonds. “If you can address basic health needs — of washing your hands, using a latrine or a toilet — that it will reduce the disease level in that community by up to 80 to 85 percent.”
When asked how Food for the Hungry connects physical care to an eternal message of hope, Edmonds smiles. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are physical creatures. This is a part of who we are, and when I look at the concept of salvation, salvation actually in Scripture would mean ‘the well-being, the wholeness.’
“So for people, [they] actually take a look and go, ‘Gosh, you have trained us, you’ve taught us that my body is actually a gift from God, I need to steward my body and how I use my body. But at the same time too, God wants to bring about deliverance from disease and illness to my very body because this is the kind of a God that I love, that I worship.’”
He says he sees it around the world – when people are given opportunity to be strengthened and made healthy, they can’t help but see the power of a God who loves them.
“And so when Food for the Hungry is able to bring that out and say, ‘This is the God we worship and this is the God we love. He cares for our whole being — body, soul, spirit — in relationship and in social relationships.’ Then they understand this is the true Gospel we’ve been longing for.”
Learn more about WASH programs with Food for the Hungry and join them in making the tools available to communities.