In Um Dukhun, West Darfur, 1500 children, women and men marched across the town, singing and carrying banners to promote good sanitation practices, in an event co-organised by Oxfam and other aid agencies. Cartons of soap were also distributed to local families.
Most of the participants were young children and their parents. United Nations statistics show that every day worldwide, over 5,000 children under five years old die from preventable diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor sanitation. Educating children to wash their hands with soap is one of the most simple, inexpensive yet effective ways of combating this, and can help reduce these deaths by half.
Julia Moore, Oxfam's Liberian-born Public Health Promoter, helped run the campaign in Um Dukhun: "We were overwhelmed by the response of the community. It was an extremely hot day - over 40 degrees - and it was fantastic to see so many people willing to spend the whole day out in the sun for such an important cause. They didn't stop singing and dancing all day - more people kept arriving, and everyone participated, from young children to the old Sheikhs. It shows how much the community cares about the health of their families and neighbours, and that they understand how essential hand-washing is."
One of the participants was nine-year old Hawa Bashara. Together with her friends, she wrote and performed songs throughout the day:
"The chorus of our song goes, 'We will wash our hands with soap and water - today, tomorrow, and after'. It is to remind other children how important it is to wash their hands - especially the boys! Some of them don't remember to wash before they eat, after they have been playing in the dirt. Washing your hands with soap and water is very easy, but if you don't do it you can get so many different diseases."
Similar events were also held in other camps and neighbourhoods throughout Darfur. In Kebkabiya in North Darfur, Oxfam worked with local partners to organise singing and drama events which were attended by 1,400 people - including over 1,000 children - and were broadcast on local radio to tens of thousands of listeners across the region.
Although Global Hand Washing Day was officially on October 15th, the logistical and security challenges of working in Darfur meant events were held throughout the following weeks. 2008 is the International Year of Sanitation, and the Global Day is a key part of attempts to improve public health and sanitation across the globe.
"This is a very important day," Julia Moore told the crowd of children gathered in Um Dukhun. "But hand-washing is not just about one day - it needs to be done every day. Every time you go the latrine, or ride a donkey, or play in the streets, you must wash your hands. It could save your life."
Oxfam currently provides sanitation and other vital assistance to more than 400,000 people affected by the ongoing violence in Darfur, which has forced over 2 million people from their homes. Conflict-affected communities are particularly vulnerable, as disease can spread rapidly in the vast, densely populated camps.
To see photos from the hand washing campaign in Um Dukhun: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfamdarfur/sets/72157608446694765/ The event in Um Dukhun was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).