South Sudan: As communities are forced to live together more densely because of conflict, germs spread easily and diarrhoea becomes an ever-more prevalent risk. Compounding that, we now know that famine is happening in this country.
Access to latrines and soap may not be top of people’s lists in such unimaginable conditions. But where children are acutely malnourished they become especially vulnerable to sickness.
It’s February 2017 and No Strings is in the capital, Juba, running a six-day training for teachers as well as health promoters employed by our partner Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Many work in remote villages or camps for people displaced by conflict. The themes: water, sanitation and hygiene, and malaria (we’ll post about malaria later).
Today, we’re mostly thinking about poop. Or poo-poo as they call it here. Defecation, stools, excreta, words trotted out continuously by all of us, albeit somewhat self-consciously. Because it seems to be a universal truth that humans all have a hang-up about the fact that they poop.
And it’s agreed that people need to be able to talk about it if they’re going to make meaningful connections.
So we separate the ‘boys’ from ‘girls’ and we all make Mr Poop sock puppets, meanwhile taking advantage of the friendly sewing circle (our male participants turn out to be beautiful sewers, incidentally) to have that conversation.
We each stuff a brown sock, sew in a few ‘lumps’, add a cardboard mouth and two button eyes, and create a disgusting, devilish Mr Poop character.
Eyes focused, hands busy, an easy sense of comradeliness builds around the table. June from the Ministry of Health tells us how young brides are sometimes banned from latrines by parents-in-law. Sister Christine, a nurse, discusses how traditionally, poo-poo near the home is visible proof that fathers are providing well for their families. Laughing, two younger female participants describe how young girls will climb trees with their friends and have pooping competitions from branches. For adults, too, long morning walks away from the men are a looked-forward-to time to chat and relax with friends.
We talk about how participants can get school children or mothers groups to make Mr Poop puppets and in doing so open up about habits and concerns. Mr Poop then becomes a wonderful toy with horrible Germ friends (a mean little stick puppet) and an enemy Mr Soap (a hero bar of soap on a stick with a face on) and Clean Water (a bottle), puppets children can play with to work out for themselves the disgusting story of how disease spreads and let’s be honest about it, other people’s poo-poo gets into your mouth.
In groups, our participants invent and act out stories that would have seemed outrageous earlier in the day. The sound effects have everyone in stitches. Wow. What actors!