OK, now I am really grossed out. We are battling the pinworms here – taking medicine (everybody but Saige and I because she is too young for the medicine and I am still breastfeeding her), scrubbing bathrooms several times a day, hounding the kids to wash their hands constantly, washing the sheets every day (not so easy with no dryer and only one set of sheets per person), putting all the blankets and toys out in the sun (apparently pinworms don’t like direct sunlight). However, all this work might be for nothing because pinworms are like lice, highly transmittable from child to child and the reinfection rate is extremely high even in countries with good hygiene habits.
And from what I hear and see this is not a place with good hygiene habits. I noticed on the first day of school that there was no soap or toilet paper in the bathroom and that everybody shared one towel. I mentioned this to the Asst. school director who explained that the toilet paper is kept in the classroom otherwise kids play with it and waste it and that there should be soap. He sent somebody to put some soap in the bathroom. I didn’t mention the towel because I assumed that this was due to a lack of funds and I didn’t want to be an obnoxious American.
Well, now that the worms are in our life, all I could think about last night was how hard it is to get kids to have good hygiene practices even with toilet paper right there and soap and paper towels or hand dryers. But here, all it takes is one other kid to have pinworms or any other parasite for that matter and use the community towel and then every other kid who touches that towel and puts their hand in their mouth, gets the parasite. It’s too gross to even contemplate!
So I decided that I should talk about the bathroom situation with Janet, the school director (I usually only find soap in the bathroom about 50% of the time). While Janet agreed with me that there should ideally be better hygiene, she was slightly amused by my reaction to finding out that my kids have parasites. The first thing she said to me is that “it’s a cultural thing. That people in Colombia are not nearly as bothered by this as people in your culture.” Furthermore, in her fourteen years of running the school, no parent has ever complained about the bathroom or of their child having parasites. “It’s a different mentality”, she said. “It’s expected. In fact, Manuel, the Assistant School Director, thinks that it’s natural to have parasites so human beings just have to learn to live with them.” She also told me that she had a stomach ache earlier in the week so she went and got some deworming medication. Problem resolved. Yikes!!!!!
She went on to say that it’s a real struggle because even the adults don’t always wash their hands after using the bathroom. The parents don’t seem to be teaching their kids to wash their hands at home so the teachers are having a really hard time getting the kids to wash their hands. As for the one towel, they don’t have the money for hand-dryers which cost $250 apiece. OK, this is a private school and the kids are not from poor families. Surely we can start a collection of $5 a family to have some dryers. Maybe make it $6 and get some soap as well. Apparently each family is already asked to contribute 8 rolls of toilet paper at the start of the school year. What’s a little more parental support?
In the meantime, I am buying my girls individual towels to bring to school every day. Janet also told me that she would talk to the teachers about ways to improve hygiene at school. Of course, she could have just been telling me what I wanted to hear. I have a friend here who had to have 3 brain operations after intestinal parasites traveled up to her brain. It’s actually a really serious issue. Yet another cause to take up?