student washes hands
October 24, 2018

Last year, Alyssa Forero visited the Center for Young Children (CYC) with her fellow Global Public Health Scholars classmates to teach pre-K and kindergarteners proper hand washing techniques.

This year, she greeted them when they arrived.

The college students came to work with the children as part of Global Handwashing Day. The day is part of a global advocacy effort that aims to increase awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap.

Forero, a sophomore majoring in nursing, was so inspired by the young students, she decided to apply to work at the on-campus early childhood laboratory school.

“I came for Global Handwashing Day, and I was working with the kids, and really loved it,” she said. “Interacting with the kids, and just seeing how they grow, really drew me in.”

Director of Global Health Engagement Dr. Elisabeth Maring has brought undergraduate students to the Center for Young Children for about five years. The effort demonstrates the School of Public Health's commitment to community outreach and education.

Dr. Maring also advises the student group Public Health Without Borders, and directs the Global Public Health Scholars program, a living and learning program for academically talented freshman and sophomore students.

“We try to connect students to the community through service activities like this,” Dr. Maring said. “It’s really important for these students to come to this, and learn about the existence of places like the Center for Young Children.”

She said days like these not only give students exposure to new experiences, it also provides valuable practice on how to conduct public health lessons with children. The Public Health Without Borders students take annual trips to places like Sierra Leone, Peru and India to work on public health projects like teaching handwashing.

Handwashing with soap is an easy, effective, affordable do-it-yourself practice that prevents infections and saves lives. Global Handwashing Day aims to highlight the significance of its disease-preventing power through this global annual event. In addition to dramatically reducing the risk of diarrhea and pneumonia, which can cause serious illness and death, handwashing with soap also helps prevent the spread of other infections, including influenza and Ebola.

The college students led the youngsters in a slew of activities including one where they placed a bit of "Glo-Germ" on their hands, which highlights germy spots as white areas under a blacklight.

After thoroughly washing their hands, the kindergartners got the black light again — the germy spots were all gone.

Children who go to the CYC for preschool or kindergarten wash their hands at school each morning, and organizers hope they will bring the skills home and remind their families to clean their hands after bathroom trips and before meals.

While the experience is enriching for the children, it also gives college students a chance to use the skills they're learning in the real world, said Danielle Stein, a freshman in Kinesiology.

“I love how I can have the opportunity to come to service days,” she said. “I can take what I learned in  the classroom and apply it to things like this.”

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Elisabeth Maring