I recently visited a medical camp set up by Save the Children for internally displaced families from Khyber Agency in District Peshawar, Pakistan.
The camp was set up at a village near Peshawar city, which has a high concentration of internally displaced people.
On the way there, I kept thinking about the people I was going to meet and how their illnesses could be treated at the health camp.
When I arrived, the staff were hard at work as men, women and children queued up to see Save the Children’s doctor.
What caught my attention were not the kids being examined, or the mothers receiving information about maternal healthcare or even the families receiving medicines: it was the group of little children listening to a health and hygiene promoter.
I was amused by the children’s keen faces as they learned about the importance and correct manner of washing hands, brushing teeth, clipping nails and maintaining good personal hygiene.
There were eight boys in light blue shalwar kameez, the official school uniform of primary school children, intently listening to the hygiene instructions.
Among them, six-year-old Junaid caught my eye. He wore dirty clothes and had a runny nose and a mud-streaked face. He appeared restless, but paid full attention to the importance of cleanliness, following the demonstrations by our staff member.
During the next hour, as I took pictures and spoke to different families at the health camp, I kept wondering what possible effect the health and hygiene session could have. I thought children would not learn about cleanliness after listening to a stranger for a short time.
As my visit came to an end, I headed back to the car and noticed a little boy smiling at me. Though he looked familiar, I couldn’t place him at first.
Suddenly, to my utmost surprise, I realised that this freshly bathed boy with neatly combed hair and clean clothes was none other than Junaid!
He had such a pleased grin on his face that I had an almost irresistible urge to give him a massive hug.
Instead, I asked him if he had just come from home and he nodded vigorously. He said that he had run home after the health and hygiene session and repeated to his mother what he had learnt.
Hygiene for life
I was incredibly fortunate to have witnessed such an impressive change in a little boy who was motivated enough from just one small hygiene awareness activity, since this is obviously not always the case.
I now believe that children taught respectfully and using innovative methods will emulate a role model even with limited resources.
In the long-run, promotion of such practices will certainly reduce lethal diseases such as diarrhoea that claim the lives of hundreds of children in Pakistan every year.
Junaid won my heart and definitely made my day!
Written by Sarah Kakakhel, Save the Children, Pakistan