Allison Gottwalt and SoapBox Teach Handwashing in Costa Rica

We got a fabulous update from Allison Gottwalt about the work she is doing in Costa Rica and how SoapBox has been able to help fund her hygiene initiatives! Check it out below!

Allison Gottwalt 2014-07-24 09.45.43– September 9, 2014-I am a graduate student working on my Masters in Public Health at the George Washington University, and I do a lot of work with an indigenous population in the south of Costa Rica called the Ngöbe. While Costa Rica has, on average, great health indicators, including a higher life expectancy than the U.S., a closer look reveals that these numbers are not so promising in the indigenous territories, which account for less than 2% of the total population of the country. Paved roads do not reach the indigenous territory, and most of the territory does not have electricity, potable water, or modern toilets. Unfortunately, this lack of infrastructure is not entirely due to rurality or difficulty of getting these services to the indigenous territory. The Ngöbe, together with the other indigenous groups in Costa Rica, are incredibly neglected by the government and are kept at a disadvantage both socioeconomically and health-wise through this systematic neglect.

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This summer, a graduate student in medical anthropology and I were working in the Ngöbe community to research factors that are impacting the high rates of diarrheal diseases in this population. When I contacted SoapBox to let them know about my project, they were eager to help, and with their donation I was able to buy 1,300 locally produced bars of soap to distribute throughout the community. Most of the individuals we interviewed knew that it is important to use soap when washing hands, but over and over again, they told us that they can’t afford to purchase soap and therefore usually do not use it. Having access to soap is something that we often take for granted in our lives here in the U.S., but this was an important reminder that not everyone is so lucky as we are. Soap is a vital part of preventing diarrheal diseases in this community, and it was an absolute joy being able to touch peoples’ lives by bringing them a simple bar of soap.

IMG_2604One mother in particular stands out in my mind from our time there. After we finished conducting interviews for our research, we spent a few days distributing soap to people in the indigenous territory. When we were done handing out soap at the local health clinic on the first day, we were walking back to the car when a woman came running up in her dress, looking absolutely panicked. She immediately started asking us if we had any more soap because she could not miss getting free soap for her family. I will never forget the gratitude and relief etched on the woman’s face as she left the clinic with some bars of soap for the eight children she is raising in a two-room house.

IMG_2656We spent the last day distributing soap at the local elementary school. We went from classroom to classroom, teaching each class how to properly wash their hands and giving every student a bar of soap to bring home to their families. All of the students, especially the younger children, were so enthusiastic and excited to show us that they knew how to wash their hands. One kindergartner came running up to me after we were done and hugged me hard. She wanted to let me know that she had just gone to the bathroom and had washed her hands thoroughly just like we had taught them. This little girl was so proud of herself for washing her hands, and the big grin on her face will stay with me as a reminder of one of SoapBox’s many success stories. It is so rewarding to bring much-needed, potentially life-saving soap to such a deserving community, and with the help of the incredible people at SoapBox, we hope to continue providing soap to keep the Ngöbe clean and healthy for years to come.

Here are a few more photos of Allison and the kids learning to wash their hands!

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