One humid September evening, in a remote Union Council (UC) of District Sanghar, Sindh, Pakistan, just when I was about to take a glass of water from a woman, a five-year old girl standing next to me shrieked, “Mummy, let’s sanitize his hands first.” Without waiting for my consent, she gestured me to take a small amount of sanitizer on my palms to disinfect my hands. Meanwhile, she asked all those who shook hands with me to follow suit. The focus of her conversation during the entire ritual centered on the importance of hygiene in routine life and especially during pandemics. She sounded as articulate and confident as any professional hygiene expert practicing in Paris, Berlin, or New York.
The province of Sindh is situated in the South of Pakistan. This little girl was Pankhudi, a resident of Jam Nawaz Ali – one of Sanghar’s most underprivileged talukas (tehsils). Rasheed Khan Marri, a remote village in UC Hout Wassan of Jam Nawaz Ali is her entire universe. When a Hygiene Promoter of Malteser International Pakistan informed her about the deadly hazards of COVID-19, she felt her ‘universe’ was about to collapse! Hence, she took upon herself to save the lives of her near and dear ones.
Since the emergence of COVID-19 earlier this year, Pankhudi has repeatedly instructed everyone in her village to maintain social (physical) distance and to wash hands with soap frequently.“In our home and the entire nearby neighbourhood, when Pankhudi orders, everybody obeys,” told Rajia, Pankhudi’s mother while giving this scribe a glass of water.
It was under Rajia’s strict guidance that Pankhudi had already been adhering to a hygienic routine when the Malteser’s project team visited village Rasheed Khan Marri and distributed hygiene-kits in addition to conducting awareness sessions on COVID-19. In all, 4000 hygiene kits have been distributed so far among as many households under this project.
Contents of the hygiene kit aided Pankhudi’s family and other villagers in adapting hygienic practices. “Don’t you worry Sir, we’ll continue using these useful items when the ones distributed by the Malteser are finished. I’ll work extra hours to buy them even though they will be of inferior quality,” pledged Saroop Chand, Pankhudi’s father who is a labourer.
“I had four best friends: Aastha, Jaman Das, Dilip and Mahesh. Now I have five. This hand sanitizer is a new addition in my best friends’ list. Drink water without worrying, Uncle. We boil it daily for drinking,” Pankhudi concluded with a patronizing smile that lit up her whole face.