Setting the trend in hand hygiene in Namibia

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Handwashing is a simple habit that can help keep you healthy. Maintaining hand hygiene is a simple and cost-effective public health intervention that can help reduce infectious diseases that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contacts such as common cold, flu and other gastrointestinal infections such as diarrhoeas.

Joseph Auala has been at the forefront of Namibia’s hand hygiene challenge for the past decade. This local government veteran politician has devised an innovative way to encourage Namibians to wash their hands – with soap.

How It Started

Auala is the founder of Mobile Hand Washing Basin Project (MHWBP), which designs and handcraft handwashing kits meant to promote personal hygiene, particularly by washing hands with clean water and soap.

Joseph Auala showing off one the designs

The cholera incident that claimed two lives at a village in Omusati region in 2008, gave birth to the mobile handwashing project.

“I started the project when I heard of a very bad story in 2008 when cholera broke out at Oshitayi village in Omusati region. People were having a funeral, and some relatives came from Angola.

Unfortunately, and unbeknown to them, one of the Angolans were infected with cholera. With this customary practice of washing hands in one basin after the funeral, it led to cholera to broke out. Unfortunately, two family members died as a result, including the one from Angola.

That incident made me think, how to come up with some sort of solution where people can clean their hands, not in the same basin but separately.

So, I started designing and creating these handwashing basins were water come from a bucket through a tap and fall into the basin after cleaning hands,” Auala narrated how the manufacturing business started.

Mobile Handwashing Kits

MHWBP is a registered small business that designs and manufactures innovative handwashing basins.

Auala works from his workshop at Katutura industrial stalls near Katutura Shoprite in Windhoek.

This is where he designs, fabricate and weld together the mobile handwashing basins.

The kit consists of a steel frame structure designed to hold a water bucket with a tap and a basin that catches soapy water.

On the frame, there are also holders for soap and kitchen roll for people to dry their hands.

There is also a small waste paper tray basket attached for people to throw in paper tissues after drying their hands.

“The kits are designed to last. First, let’s start with the bucket, a plastic bucket you have to put a tap on it. But if you just make a hole and put on a tap, when people open and close the tap it will become loose.

That’s why I placed a metal on the base of the tap, to make it firm and prevent it from becoming loose. There is a basin on the stand that traps water.

Now with new improvements on the kit, I was using plastics, now I am using stainless steel buckets and basins. The basin is covered, you cannot see the soapy water in the basin and also prevent people from reusing the water.

Its attractive frame can also serve as decoration in households.  The whole kit is also designed to be a decorative piece. If you have it in your dining or sitting room, it is something that you want to show off to your visitors,” he said about the designs.

The uniqueness of these hand washing stations is that they can be used at any occasion by both adults, children and the infirms.

These handwashing mobile basins fit any occasion, more especially when you are dining with your family, and at parties including the wedding.

They are also ideal for public health facilities like clinics, including schools, creches and wherever people are coming together to eat like restaurants, lodges and hotels.

They can also be used in times of emergencies like disaster-related displacements were sanitation facilities are often poor.

The mobile handwashing basin can save water drastically because water is coming out slowly. For instance, a 15-litre bucket of water can serve up to 30 people at a time without refilling it.

“The main idea is to have a healthy nation by teaching our children to clean their hands with clean water and soap. During the day, most children play outside and at school they come into contact with anything, accumulating all kinds of germs, and coming home they start eating without cleaning their hands first.

“Even to touch fruits with dirty hands is also not healthy. Therefore, the main objective to introduce this healthy leaving style of cleaning hands, every time, even when we come from the office,” he said.

Self Taught Welder

“We do not need to attend classroom training programmes for everything. Observation opens the widows of knowledge around us”. This quotation by Indian-born author, Sukant Ratnakar about self-taught fit well with Joseph Auala.

Until that time when he decided to start manufacturing the mobile handwashing basins, welding and metal fabrication was alien to him.

Stainless steel handwashing kit

He learns to design, cutting, folding and forming through trial and errors until he got it right.

“To be honest with you, I did not go to any special school like vocational training. I learn it myself, I just asked people how to do it (welding). I started doing welding for the first time in 2008 when I decided to do something about cleanliness from the backyard of my house in Hochland Park.

I got a crash course at Pupkewitz Mega Build, where I bought the welding machine. They just showed me how to do this welding thing, the rest is history”.

Today, Auala’s workshop is adorned with all the essential tools for welding like helmets, gloves, benders, safety glasses, angle grinders, C clamps, chipping hammers, just to mention a few.

Public Response

MHWBP has manufactured hundreds of mobile handwashing basins and people are still streaming to the workshop to place their orders.

Apart from individual customers, the project has attracted the attention of various stakeholders.

In 2015, the company won a tender by UNICEF and the City of Windhoek to produce 100 mobile handwashing basins as part of handwashing behavioural change campaign in the city’s open markets and informal settlements.

Auala and his three assistants have two weeks to deliver the order. And they managed to complete the job in a record time of two weeks.

The basins have also attracted the attention of State House, that has ordered several mobile handwashing stations and currently, guests are using them to wash their hands at the nation’s palace in the capital.

Meanwhile, Auala considers himself lucky for having trusted assistants.

“To have trustworthy workers at a place is not easy, sometimes you may employ a person, and you may entrust the person with keys to the workshop, and the next day the person may be gone and the place is empty – have stolen everything.

“But I am so lucky to have three loyal assistants. The first person, Teenager Shikongo is so trustworthy, I even entrusted him with the keys to the workshop. And I do not have any worries that something may go wrong. And the other two, I can also say the same about them”.

Challenges

“The challenges to be honest with you, are many, especially when it comes to buying materials. Metals are is becoming too expensive, we do have some places in Windhoek where one can buy metal.

Also, when it comes to plastic buckets, some shops are too expensive, where it is cheaper the buckets are not well kept – they have scratches – and that affects the quality of the finished products,” he said.

The ongoing economic downturn in the country also has a negative effect on the business.

“People want to invest in the mobile handwashing basins but the pockets cannot afford. Some they feel I make my products more expensive, not knowing the materials I used to make the products are too expensive, especially for the stainless-steel handwashing basins”.

Nonetheless, he managed to sell his products at a relatively affordable price. And as a result of the unfavourable economic climate, Auala currently manufactures the handwashing kits by order and makes only a few for the walk-in customers.

Contacts Details

Physical address: Katutura Industrial Stalls No.1

Leonard Auala Street, Katutura

Cell: +264 81 124 3708

Author: Andreas Thomas