Kiltegan Father Tim Galvin has been in Sudan since 1983. He is currently based in the town of Riwoto.
So far there have been no cases of COVID-19 in Riwoto or the surrounding county which has a population of about 100,000 people. In order to prepare the community to protect themselves from COVID-19, Father Tim identified an opportunity to promote hand-washing practices and social distancing.
“The schools and churches were closed, that was at the end of March,” Father Tim tells Misean Cara on the line from Riwoto. “The question was: how will we get information across to people. So we made posters and distributed them in the villages. Then we gave out soap to the schoolchildren.”
“One day I was over in the school, outside the headmistress’s office there was this contraption – a few sticks and a jerry can of water and a rope coming from the top.”
Father Tim put his foot against the stick, his North Kerry accent gets stronger as he describes his excitement at what happened next:
“I pressed it with my foot and water came out and I washed my hands! This is wonderful! I’m washing my hands and I’m touching nothing!!”
Sister Mary, the headmistress at the school, had been based in northern Uganda during one of the Ebola outbreaks, she had seen this device – often referred to as a Tippy Tap – in action. It works when you press down with your foot on the stick, pulling down the rope which causes the jerry can to tilt forward and pour water into your palms.
Father Tim immediately had one installed in the Kiltegan Fathers’ compound. “Straight away, the woman who is cooking for us – she asked for one for her home,” he explains.
His next step was to organise a training course for women to learn to make the water dispensers.
“We invited a women’s group because they’re the ones that control their homes,” says Father Tim.
16 women took part, breaking into groups to practice making the water dispensers, as pictured above. The next step was to sing a song about how to prevent transmission.
The women attending attending also asked for help to make masks. Sister Mary got a piece of cloth, 2 rubber bands and showed how they could make them.
“Afterwards, two women – they also had their piece of cloth – they made a mask for themselves,” says Father Tim.
“It was brilliant – people are being taught how to do things for themselves!
In South Sudan, schools closed their doors in March and flights within the country have been put on hold in order to try and prevent transmission around the country.
There is concern that if the virus took hold in the country, it could devastate its fledgling health service.
“We are beginning the rainy season now,” says Tim. “The mosquitos have started coming out and malaria will be an issue. There is so much talk about COVID-19, we wonder if other things be neglected because of it. Malaria is the biggest disease here.”
Since Misean Cara spoke to Father Tim in early May, these innovative water dispensers have been springing up all over Riwoto, with just a little help from the Kiltegan Fathers.
“Mary Nakyeno is a school girl in Riwoto who made a tap for her family, all I gave her was a piece of rope. Then a boy in standard 8 made one for his neighbour and again all I gave was a piece of string. He came back then for a jerrycan and a piece of string and made one for his own home.”
The women who took part in the training course have been busy in the community as well, says Father Tim. Digging holes where they can insert the sticks for more water dispensers.
“One of the women who was at the training three weeks ago asked me for 3 jerrycans and three pieces of rope, she was going to make them for her neighbours. I gave them to her and she told me that she had made 4 for her neighbours.”
If there is an upside to the pandemic, it could be the infectiousness of the water dispenser across the Riwoto community. “We are going to place them in front of every class, that’s 13 in total,” says Father Tim.
“It’s a great method of hygiene for people who don’t have taps,” he continues. “At the school, for example, every time the children open the tap, so much water is wasted. They need to wash their hands after the toilet and before they eat. We hope to have them ready whenever the school reopens.”