Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to Wash your Hands in a Developing Country


Washing your hands is one of those things that a person in a rich country is taught from an early age. Its usually pretty easy to do with clean water coming out of a tap and soap nearby. In a country without things like this it can be very difficult. Water may need to be carried for a long time, stored in dirty containers and often there is no soap. Even if water is available, it doesn’t come out of a tap. In Timor Leste, like most Asian countries, to wash your hands you usually have a dedicated scoop for the purpose. The rule here is to never dip your hands into the container storing the household water. Instead you need to scoop a little out with another container and tip it over your hands letting the water fall to the ground. So, if you can imagine it, you scoop the water with one hand and are left wondering how to wash the other hand on its own. You can make the hand wet, quickly put down the scoop and rub your hands or try to make some other fast manoeuvre to make the most of the water – usually somewhat inadequate. People are starting to invent ways of washing your hands in a world without taps and where water is scarce. What follows here is a simple description of a place to wash your hands set up at a little restaurant on a beach on the south coast of Timor Leste.

You take something like a sturdy 5L bottle. Here they use the bottle that cooking oil is commonly sold in. It has a handle at the top. A cordial bottle in Australia would perform a similar function.


Put a 3-4mm hole in the lid of the bottle. Thread in a sturdy, 3-4mm thin rope and tie a not in the end so it wont pull back out.

Put a 5mm hole below the lid about 8cm down and on the opposite side of the lid to where the handle of the bottle is.

Fill the bottle with water and set it up with a stick through the handle sitting up about 1.2m off the ground.

Tie another stick about 60cm long to the other end of the string coming from the lid of the bottle so that the stick rests on the ground at one end but the string holds the other end up off the ground about 15cm. You may need to adjust this to get it right.

Put the lid on the bottle. Now the thing is set up.IMGP0017

To wash your hands, gently place a foot on the stick to tip the bottle and a stream of water should come out of the 5mm hole in the bottle.

With a little practice you get good at it.

You’ll soon realise that now you’ve got a hands free system with your foot controlling water delivery and you don’t waste heaps of water spilling over your hands and lost to the ground.

Very cool and very cheap and easy to set up.

For people in fancy countries this would make a great kids activity at school or a fun thing to set up on a family holiday camp.


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