Stories of Change

Volunteer health promoter Andi Tuo.

Encouraging habits for healthy living after a disaster

In September 2018, the area around Palu, Indonesia was struck by an earthquake, which triggered tsunamis and land liquefaction. It was a massive chain of disasters that families are still struggling to recover from. 

Andi Tuo lived in one of the dozens of villages that was devastated by the chain of disasters. For the last decade, she worked part-time in her village’s health clinic, where she shared health-related information at clinic events. So, when Indonesia’s Ministry of Health hosted a sanitation workshop in the area with support from CWS in August, Andi joined. “It’s part of our culture in Palu to help each other,” she said. “So being a part of this program feels natural to me.”

In her health clinic work, Andi saw the impacts of not having good sanitation systems or hygienic habits. “The most common illness I saw was diarrhea, especially in children and babies, which has long-term consequences,” she says. The prevalence of diarrhea was mostly related to sanitation issues like open defecation, and there is no waste management either. To add to this, many people forget to wash their hands on a regular basis.

Disaster survivors are facing many of the same challenges–only the challenges have grown as families have been displaced and are still recovering. Not unlike her work in her village, Andi’s new role is to share information at monthly community gatherings. The gatherings are open to all, but mothers are especially encouraged to bring their children who are 5 years old or younger. Some get immunizations, if needed, and all who join get weight-for-height and upper arm circumference measurements to track their well-being.

“One continuing problem is that not all mothers join us each month, and behavior change is not an easy task to accomplish even if everyone does join monthly,” Andi admits. Still, she persists and invites mothers to cook together to learn more about good nutrition and, importantly, to talk about their children’s health. Andi uses these gatherings to reinforce healthy hygiene practices; “At the last gathering, before we ate, I jokingly said, ‘Wash your hands first, or you will not get corn.’ The mothers all laughed, but it worked! They all washed their hands,” she says. 

Realizing that monthly gatherings are not enough, CWS staff, Andi, and the other Community Health Promoters are now forming weekly “Clean and Healthy” groups to increase the frequency of information-sharing, learning and changing daily hygiene habits. Together, CWS staff and community volunteers are hopeful that changes
will come, and families will be healthier as they continue their recovery from last year’s disasters.