Tippy Tap to the Rescue
The Importance of Handwashing
By Hannah Pensack-Rinehart (Mezezo, Amhara, 2015- )
I arrived in Ethiopia in January 2015, to begin a 27-month Peace Corps assignment as a Health Volunteer. I live in a community of 1,600 people located in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia, in a town called Mezezo. It is a wonderful and small place, with one dirt road, a primary and secondary school, plenty of freshly roasted coffee, and some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.
As a Health Volunteer I work in the areas of prevention and education, and spend time at the schools, the Health Center, and building relationships and rapport in the town. Although Mezezo only has 1,600 people, the Mezezo Health Center serves a catchment population of 19,480, with people walking for hours from the rural areas to receive medical care and treatment.
One Monday morning in November of 2015, I walked the 5 minutes to the Health Center. I needed a little bit of motivation to get me going for the week, so I mentioned to Bantayehu Gabrekristos, my friend and co-worker at the Health Center, that it would be magnificent if we could somehow build a “Tippy Tap” (a hand-washing station made from wood and nails and a jug of water). In spite of its vital role in servicing the area’s wellness needs, the Health Center in Mezezo had absolutely no place for patients or staff to wash their hands. Bantayehu was very intrigued and we walked around the Health Center to the back of the compound, to where the town’s trash pile is located. We carefully navigated up a rocky hill, taking great care to avoid a green spiky plant called “sama,” which if touched causes a painful burning and itching sensation that does not quickly subside. Among the trash we discovered a lot of wood as well as a plastic jug called a “jerry can.” This is a good example of “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!” I wonder if that is even a phrase in Amharic. I am guessing it might not be, because recycling and repurposing trash is very common and hardly anything is ever thrown away or wasted! The only other thing we needed was a saw, which another co-worker said they would bring after lunch. We went our separate ways for lunch and when we reconvened in the afternoon, the construction began! As I am every day, I was extremely impressed with the resourcefulness that surrounded me!
Using a saw, my co-workers cut tree branches to be the foundation/legs of the tippy tap and another branch to go horizontally across the top. Instead of using a shovel, the staff used a thick tree trunk as a hammer to whack the legs of the tippy tap into the ground, and then used a rock as hammer to put in the nails that held the tippy tap together.
The plastic jug that we found in the trash pile had no lid, but we found one on the other side of the Health Center compound, and after some deep cleaning it was ready to be put to good use! A nail was used to put a hole hear the bottom of the plastic jug, and when the lid was loosened and the nail was removed, the water flowed nicely in a thin but steady stream (thanks to some aspect of physics that I do not fully understand!), ideal for washing hands!
Some electrical wire that was stripped of its outer coating was used to hold up the soap container (which is the bottom of a plastic jug found in the trash),
and some rope also found in the trash held up the jerry can/plastic jug containing the water.
By the end of that same November day, for the first time ever the Mezezo Health Center had a place for patients and staff to wash their hands (history being made!). It felt great to admire the result of our labor, which provided a great sense of accomplishment, especially because it demonstrated so clearly the creativity of my Ethiopian co-workers who somehow took a mere idea and with remarkable speed and ingenuity, transformed it into a completed tangible reality!
If this project had been up to me to do alone, I would never have even begun, because I would still be hunting for the proper tools and materials that I thought were required for this project (and wouldn’t have found them here)! This was a wonderful and valuable lesson for me, and a reminder of how much I learn from the people I am surrounded by every day in Mezezo; incredibly strong and inventive people who have become my family and friends, who I laugh with everyday, and whom I love!