Haiti's scouts setting up mobile hand-washing sinks

AWARENESS CAMPAIGN: Haitian Boy and Girl Scouts walk along Delmas road during an awareness campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 15. Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) — In impoverished Haiti, where access to clean water is tricky and education is lacking, Boy and Girl Scouts are taking to the streets with portable sinks to allow passersby to wash their hands and teach them the importance of doing so to ward off the novel coronavirus.

Haitians are anxious their densely populated nation could be especially hard hit in the pandemic given the lack of sanitation infrastructure and already overwhelmed health care services.

Authorities last week declared a state of emergency, closing Haiti's borders and shuttering schools and places of worship after detecting the first two coronavirus cases. The official tally has since risen to six.

Sporting khaki uniforms and colorful neckerchiefs, the scouts started positioning themselves two weeks ago in dozens of locations on street corners around the capital with portable wash sinks. They connect these to the water supply of a local school, church or business, or a simple bucket of water.

To attract people, the scouts sometimes also play a catchy song by Haitian singer Jean Jean Roosevelt mixing zouk, compas and Afrocaribbean beats, with lyrics encouraging hygiene measures to tackle the outbreak.

"The aim of the stations is to develop good habits in Haitians," Emmanuel Paul, 42, scout leader for Haiti's western region, told Reuters.

"The first week, many were reticent, they did not want to wash their hands with the pretext that God is good and will protect us. One even asked me if I believed in it."

The hand wash stations have been put in place in other parts of Haiti, too.

Even with the best intentions, though, most Haitians do not have running water or their own tanks and have to buy it or, if they cannot afford that, use springs where the water is often contaminated.

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