How I discovered a new trick for hand hygiene in Kenya

Elisa Pizzi in Kenya.

At the age of fourteen, I moved from Venezuela to Germany and for over a year now I’ve been living in Austria. I still have a lot of family in Venezuela and spread all over the world, so I am used to an exchange of cultures. I also love to travel. I like to go off the beaten path, where I can meet locals – like last year, when I visited a nursing school for low-income girls in Bangkok. You just experience the country, culture and life in a totally different way. When I heard I could apply to join the CARE mission in Kisumu, Kenya, I jumped at the chance. It was all last-minute, and I had to prepare my application quickly. I was so happy when it went through!

I knew we’d be visiting a project that supports mothers and children, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was just excited to expand my horizons. Learning from new cultures is one of the most enriching experiences for me. I had never been to Kenya, or anywhere in Africa, so my feelings were kind of a mix of looking forward to it and curiosity… and a little bit of worry.

Communication is important to me. It’s part of my work, but also my everyday life. I want to connect with people. From the moment I arrived, my worries ended. I was met with such openness! By the third day, I felt like we had known one another much longer. It was different from meeting people in parts of Europe, where sometimes it can take forever to break the ice. In Kisumu, this direct, yet warm approach among people was something that carried on throughout my visit and really left a mark on me.

Lessons learned

Before we left for Kenya, we were asked to prepare a presentation on a health-related topic. We had decided to talk about germ transmission and disinfection. But it became kind of obvious that our presentation was a little bit too, let’s say, “straight-laced”! We had prepared some laminated cards to hand out, but the whole thing didn’t really take off until our Kenyan hosts chimed in. Obviously, they knew about the benefits of hand-washing, but they don’t always have the right facilities. So, what do they use? Ashes! Rubbing your hands with ashes from a cooking fire disinfects hands. That was something new to me! I realized then that I should have thought about the possibility they don’t always have disinfectant lotion or soap.
Workshop with Elisa Pizzi.

But now at least I felt like we had an exchange going on, and I was happy I could improve my workshops and make them even more interactive. I felt a different atmosphere and a better connection because they now felt that I was listening to them. I learned to be flexible and adapt quickly to the new situation and use the knowledge gained. It was also a good lesson in how people solve problems in different ways, and how to use the resources you have close by.

A story to share

On the last day, we visited an outreach center set up in a church. Everything was so well-organized, and I was impressed by how well the time was used. There was a line, but while waiting outside, patients could chat one-on-one to community volunteers. On the day we were there, there was even a theater group presenting a funny skit about the acceptance of women in society. I was inspired by how they found so many different ways to reach out to people, always focusing on sharing educational messages.

This was one of the most important experiences of my life. Watching these professionals offer medical services in such different conditions really broadened my understanding of the challenges. And it was fascinating to hear examples of such resourcefulness, like using ashes for hand hygiene. This ability to talk openly with people and then be flexible and practical in finding the right solution was inspiring. I will never forget the openness and responsiveness of my hosts in Kenya. It’s something I have brought back with me and will learn from as I connect to people in my everyday life. We are all looking for solutions – and some of them are so unexpected, we need to talk about them and share these stories!

Elisa Pizzi drawing on her colleague’s gloves.

2018 marks HARTMANN’s 200-year anniversary.

To commemorate this milestone, we have put together this series of articles. In it we show how our employees and partners contribute to advancing healthcare, as well as discussing trends and issues that affect the healthcare systems we serve.