Sunday, September 15, 2013

Seniors Scene

Clean Water Saves Lives

Myrtle talks about life in India and Pakistan

Submitted by Myrtle Macdonald, Chilliwack

cannot afford the $39 to enter your writer's contest. Here is my entry: Many government leaders think it is a just, preventive measure to make a massive attack on Syria. I would remind them of the horror of the suffering caused by the surprise attack on the Twin Towers through which over 3000 people died. Surprise attacks are extremely traumatic.

Let us see these issues from a world perspective, such as of the suffering of more than 5000 families because their babies have died. That is every day, not just 3000 once. Infants die because of malnutrition and lack of sewage treatment. Churches have lowered this death rate and suffering by funding missions serving mothers of children under 5 years of age. I have served overseas myself for 20 years, doing this sort of preventive and educational work.

In Pakistan we went in a van to a different village daily. We were two nurses, a student nurse on rotation and myself a nurse, with two drivers. That was so that if one was on leave or ill, the vehicle would always go. Both men at the villages just locked the vehicle and went from house to house with us, in teams of two.

They became very effective teachers, and even Muslim women trusted them. The three teams each had a hand held spring scale with a jumper bag to hold each baby. Each mother was given a graphic card on which we marked the weight monthly. The coloured rainbow was red for serious under weight, yellow for mild and green for good. Some weights were even below the red. After a few months we would stop going monthly to a village and only do so once in three months. In that way we served more and more villages, brick yards and city slum areas. The quality of health care by mother had improved. We were no longer needed.

We had a Canadian and a Pakistani doctor but whenever they went to the villages the men and boys took up their time. The mothers with babies were too shy to come for help, although they had more illness. For that reason the doctors changed their role to that of teaching our teams two days a week, and of doing PR with village elders, government and CIDA (Canadian International Development Aid).

In India for some years I taught semi-literate middle aged women to become volunteer Community Health Workers. Before that I had a class of matric level young men and women and they graduated with great public health knowledge and skill, but the villagers thought them too young to be taken seriously. They were able to help me teach the next classes of less educated women.

Outcast traditional midwives were also accepted in their CHW classes. An upper class lady make that acceptable by saying "Mahatma Gandhi would have approved of their attendance in our classes."  A nurse who was a midwife joined me and taught them safe midwifery right in their homes. She got around on foot and by bicycle. I had a cycle rickshaw and later a motor rickshaw and driver.

The village leaders wanted men included so I has special classes for them on village development and sanitation. We formed Health Advisory Committees.

I also taught local masons in India to install cement slab latrines with a U-shaped trap over a bamboo lined six foot deep hole. No chemicals were needed and a little water kept them clean and odor-free because of water in the U bend. We did not have funds however to install large sewage treatment schemes. Use of chemicals for that purpose is environmentally wrong anyway. We can inform our politicians and the public of simple ways to treat sewage and produce valuable compost to use as fertilizer. When a pit latrine is getting full another hole can be dug and the slab top with a U transferred to the new site.

A suitable outhouse of branches or bamboo with a door for privacy is all that is needed. Then the old hole is covered with earth and a fruit tree planted there.

Even today around the world raw sewage from all ships and many seaside homes, goes directly into our oceans untreated. Properly composted it could be fertilizer rather than the poison that is destroying fisheries. Even our rivers are contaminated in this way.

I wept in 1969 when I first learned that was happening to the St. Lawrence River. Is it still that bad? How about the Fraser, the Columbia and the Mississippi?

Let us clean up our own contaminated waters and soil and help our neighbours worldwide, and in Syria to do the same. Grand scale methods are not suitable in developing nations, or in ours really. Sewage treatment plants should be smaller and closer to home. The piping corrodes in time and leaks or becomes non-functional.

Myrtle Macdonald  M.Sc. Applied (in Nursing Research and Education), McGill University.

She is a retired registered nurse living in Chilliwack now working with the local chapter of the BC Schizophrenia Association. Myrtle was a street nurse for many years in places like India and Montreal. She turned 92 in June and is one of the Voice's most popular contributors.



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