-  Vered Volunteers in Batticaloa  -

November 7, 2011

“Knowledge improves health and can save lives.” How true is this slogan from Tag. When volunteering for Tag in Sri Lanka, I had the privilege of experiencing the influence of sharing my knowledge.

As a nurse and health promoter I went with health facilitators (HF) on home visits in Batticaloa. Their target group was pregnant women and children.

That area is very damaged by war, tsunami and floods. Some people keep a few goats, chickens and cows. Crops are hard to grow as the area is inundated with salt water. Sweet water is available but very difficult to obtain, for washing one hardly uses any water at all. Hygiene, therefore, needed to be taught in order to prevent diarrhea and other diseases.

Explaining growth curves to the HFs so that they can help the mothers with nutritional advice was enjoyed by the learners and by me. To convince the mothers and HF that yoghurt made from goats’ milk is very nutritious for children and adults was not easy. If only a few families will start using this “free” product their children will grow better. Nobody realized that medicine storage can be a problem; most were wrapped in paper and stored on the floor, easy for toddlers to find and eat.

The, by me refuted myth, that breast feeding is a means of birth control was not well received, I am almost sure nobody believed me.

Everywhere I saw a lot of dental decay and empty spaces in mouths as a result of wrong hygiene and difficulties receiving dental treatment. Wherever I taught, e.g. in a primary school, I told the children and teachers how and when to brush their teeth with salt water (many cannot afford tooth paste).

With children I practiced, with a lot of laughter, how to fight fair and not bite each other when angry. Awareness of HIV and hepatitis transfer is not high among the youth.

I made, together with teachers, puzzles from paper and leaves. This activity is known to help children develop mathematical thinking, and for them it was a new activity that fascinated everybody.

During a hospital visit I noticed a nurse in the treatment room who never washed his hands in between patients, nor did he wear (the available) gloves. My comments to the head nurse, who was showing me around, were received well.

I also worked with traumatized youth from a vocational training center – twenty six 14- to 24-year-olds, and their teachers participated. During the morning sessions I worked with them on relaxation and imagining a good future. The participation in exercises where they were asked to draw their dreams and later their problems with solutions was very positive. During the afternoon we practiced CPR and Heimlich maneuver and how to not to get infected with HIV or hepatitis when giving first aid.

Sometimes the groups I was asked to teach were not exactly what I had expected. One time I was supposed to meet 12- to 18-year-olds and the children were aged from 5 to 18; sometimes also adults decided to join us. To work with such a mixture was a challenge. Hand washing, nail care, hygiene and dental cleaning were always a success, demonstrations and role playing kept the audience alert, and often I made up games that teach cooperation and coordination.

To share my knowledge with people who have suffered for many years is an experience that always enriches me. I am proud to be instrumental in teaching the less fortunate how they can help themselves to better their physical and mental health.

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If knowledge is power… then sharing knowledge can be a powerful force for change.
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