Superstition vs. Science

Guest post by Christopher

One of the hurdles that has tripped me up since we started this whole grand venture, and has been a huge challenge for me to get past, is the exasperation I feel when we run up against superstition in this culture.

Don’t get me wrong, superstition is a normal human trait, and exists in every culture around the world. It’s ingrained into the human brain, I think. We have our beliefs in the West, as well, which are just as unsubstantiated as they are anywhere else. I live in America, which is often full of backwards and illogical thinking, especially surrounding politics. It’s an election year here, and I get just as frustrated by our own crazy thinking. Just this morning, I was listening to the local morning show on the radio while they spoke with a comedian going on about vaccinations being a conspiracy and causing autism. A superstition like his is caused by fear—whether fear of needles or of doctors—the same fears and irrationality that gave rise to the Black Death in Europe hundreds of years ago. Such crazy fears are giving rise in whooping cough and other diseases in my own country which had been almost eradicated decades ago.

I have been a student of mythology and religions since I was very young and I’ve studied many different myth cycles. Mostly European but I’ve spent some time with Hindu myths and legends – Hanuman is a personal favorite of mine. I enjoy old stories, and many times they give the reader valuable lessons in behavior through parables and epic storytelling. As a writer, I have to love that.

But sometimes myths can also give rise to superstition and irrational fear, or the belief that cause and effect don’t have to bear any relation to logic. I’ve been hearing many things since I started to learn about India and the causes for the problems they face with sanitation, and some have made my jaw drop and prompted me to launch into tirades. I won’t do that here, but I’d like to share some of the things I’ve heard and let you judge for yourself:

  • That newborn children get diarrhea because their parents have sex too soon after their birth.
  • The idea that your hands somehow magically get clean while you’re preparing meals, so you don’t have to wash them before handling food.
  • That feces are just harmless dirt, and you don’t need to wash your hands after handling it.
  • That flies that were just crawling over human and animal waste are harmless creatures and don’t need to be kept away from food or open mouths.
  • Stories from travelers to India of food dishes or clothing being washed in the same water that is also urinated or defecated in, and the subsequent life-threatening illness that followed.
  • That the rivers in India are so holy they cannot become polluted, which in turn leads companies and communities to use them as sewage and chemical dumping grounds.
  • Pictures of people bathing or even drinking from the same water where corpses are floating a few yards away, or where animals are relieving their bowels into the river.

These things flabbergast me. They make me throw my hands in the air and pace about. And they also highlight the fact that the people we are trying to help desperately need education, and to set aside superstition in favor of the clear light of scientific reasoning. I’m not saying they must discard their legends and myths – I am simply saying they must no longer let magical thinking continue to cause this level of illness and death due to ignorance and fear. To do otherwise is gross negligence.

In 2011 almost one-quarter of all worldwide deaths of children under the age of 5 occurred in India. That’s far more than any other country. 1.7 million children and infants. More than 4650 deaths per day.Somewhere, somehow, superstition has to stop and real learning and change must begin.


Through education we can save lives. Many lives.

guest post by Nina Claunch:

I was born in Madrid, Spain and that was the beginning of an early life filled with travel. My parents were missionaries and we moved anywhere from every few months to every few years. I spent my childhood mostly in South-East Asia, then we came to the US and continued traveling. I’ve been to many different countries and one of the things that I remember most about the places where I grew up is the filth that I saw. I vividly remember the flies, the stench, the diseases, and the children suffering from all of the poverty, dirt and diseases. I remember the hopelessness that surrounds these people whose kids are dying.

When I was a teenager, I rebelled against my parents and I left home to start my own journey at the age of 14. I refused to be a part of anything that was associated with missionaries and I built my own life the way that I wanted it.

I grew up, got married, had kids, put what I had seen away on a shelf, and have lived my life as most other mothers do: trying to give my children a safe, healthy and happy life.

I mostly forgot about charity. Then I was introduced to this project by Dr. Mohammad, and I began to realize that not a lot of people have the capability to move on and make a better life for themselves.

Not all the mothers in the world know with certainty that their kid is not going to die today from diarrhea or another horrible, water-borne illness. I have that privilege. I know for a fact that today will not be the day that my children succumb to diarrheal disease or something else because of lack of sanitation and hygiene. I know that they will have clean water today and every day to drink and bathe with. I also know that they know how to wash their hands and they are very good about practicing it daily. I know that because I’ve taught them how to and instilled in them a habit that has according to the statistics about diarrheal deaths and hand-washing, has saved their lives.

That itself makes me responsible. It makes me responsible because I have the knowledge to prevent diarrheal deaths. I have prevented it in my own three sons partially due to the fact that the country that I live in is culturally aware of basic sanitation. We know that by washing our hands before eating and after using the restroom we can prevent a great deal of horrible, nasty diseases and even deaths.

My education makes me responsible to others. That is why I am a part of the SUM1 team. Because through education we can save lives. Many lives. We don’t even know how many lives could possibly be saved through just this first trip. But we do know that if we don’t go, a lot of kids will die this year. Even just this minute. I feel that my first-world privilege makes me responsible to others. And if at this point all I can do is lend my hand to help SUM1 with educating the village of Saraiya about hand-washing and hygiene practices, then I am on board.


“The rewards of the journey far outweigh the risk of leaving the harbor.”

I was recently in a conversation about whether or not vaccinations were suggested or required for Italy.  They are not, at least for those of us who have already had routine immunizations.  This is something that I made sure to check before I went.  That may sound silly to some of you, but before I travel I do try to ensure to the best of my ability a safe and happy voyage.  Getting recommended shots is just the smart thing to do.

I enjoyed this query because most people would never think to ask about vaccinations for Europe.  Many should, however, as this article points out.  Many more, naturally, have asked if or what shots are needed for India. ‘ A lot’ is the best answer I can give.  I had vaccinations for polio, Hepatitis series, tetanus, and Japanese Encephalitis the first round.  Second round was just JE and I have still yet one more round in October for Hep.  They suggested rabies but I felt my circumstances did not warrant it.

These are just the shots, mind you.  I also need to wash my clothes in Deet, wear lots of protective lotion while I am there, take Malaria meds almost constantly.  This is just to reduce the risk of serious illness.  There is still a very real chance I could get Dengue Fever or the like.

All this is nothing compared to the constant threat of ingesting something undesirable.  I have a prescription for that, as well, to reduce the chance that I will get sick enough to have to be air lifted to Singapore.  Should I get (very) sick in India, I cannot go to the local hospitals due to the extremely unsanitary conditions.

And yet I was actually surprised when those closest to me turned out to be not my greatest support in this endeavor but some of my biggest detractors.  I truly love them all the more for not giving a damn about others’ welfare so long as I am safe.  Everyone should have such amazing people in their lives.  Knowing how well-cared for I am allows me to go out into the world with less concern for myself because they have that covered.  They love me in a way I did not expect, but it turns out in a way that I really need.

I understand that I am putting myself in harm’s way.  I am going, come Hell or High Water.  Or illness, parasites, poop, or bad smells.  I will probably get at least a little sick.  I will be tired, hungry, dirty, and homesick.  If the greater the risk, the greater the reward, then I can’t wait!


The Goal is Life

guest post by David Keifert:

I had worked with Dr. Mohammed at Thrombodyne for over a year before he presented his past, present and future projects for the Saraiya village in rural India.

Upon hearing his philanthropic dreams and the progress that has been made, I felt like I wanted to involve this project into my work load.  My prior experiences in Asia and other parts of the world helped me to understand the importance and need for the project.

I have a double BA from the University of Utah, majoring in International studies and Japanese with a minor in Asian studies. I also have experience traveling in underdeveloped countries. I’ve gone into several foreign schools to help educate and to better understand foreign educational systems. I was able to audit a Japanese junior high school as a foreign student.

I have assisted in an after school education program for students K-12 (Nagano, Japan).  I was also able to volunteer basic English teaching with underprivileged children in Thailand.

When Jodi wanted my help to expand this project, I felt honored for the opportunity.  Those efforts eventually led to the creation of SUM1.

I went to work on designs for a handwashing with soap educational. I began with researching and educating myself on how other programs around the world are facilitating this same message, only to uncover that ultimately it is best to tailor it to the people you are trying to teach.  In our efforts to find an interpreter we have come to a great possibility; Akshai Abraham of Khel  www.projectkhel.com

 “KHEL (an acronym for Kids Holistic Education and Life Skills) is a novel program which uses sports and games to achieve developmental outcomes. Working with underprivileged and street children, both in and out of school, using games as a platform, we hope to bring about positive change in their lives. We recognise children’s ‘right to play’ and believe that sports, in itself, builds character and teaches important life-lessons. Using sports and games as a medium, we work with children towards various goals – be it getting drop-outs back to school, keeping street children away from substance abuse or deviant behaviour, improving important life-skills, imparting key health messages or linking them with further education/ vocational training opportunities.”

Akshai’s vision is to use sports and games as a platform to achieve developmental outcomes, this correlates to our need for the future success of Saraiya’s education. The inherent life-skill learning in playing team sports, and short 10-20 min sessions of discussions, awareness building, life-skills training after a 40 min sports session is a successful platform for this region.

Akshai is in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the same state as Saraiya, and he will have a greater understanding of the culture than anyone I could have hoped for. Partnering with Akshai on this project would be ideal as both our charity groups can gain much from each other and perhaps assist each other in future endeavors.

Jodi and I are planning a mission to Saraiya and we will be heading there November of 2012, educating the villagers in basic sanitation practices and hygiene.  My goal is to begin teaching the children about hand-washing with soap and how that will affect their lives and their health.  It isn’t an easy task but children learn faster than adults and also, research has shown that the children will help to educate their parents about the importance of hygiene (handwashing with soap being the main goal.)  Our hope is that our trip to Saraiya will ignite a metaphorical fire about sanitation, hygiene through education and hand-washing practices, that thoroughly saturates the community and will eventually spread to surrounding villages.  The goal is life.  Saving hundreds of children every day/month through education is something that I am proud to be a part of.


Why I volunteer for SUM1

Guest post from Laurie R.

Jodi asked me why I started to volunteer for SUM1 and +1ndia. The surface answer is because I would do nearly anything for Jodi…she’s an amazing person with tremendous vision and she knows how to get things done. But that’s the surface answer. The real reason is more emotional for me.

When Jodi first started talking about going to India and the importance of educating villages about good hygiene I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here we are in the 21st century and people over there are doing what their ancestors were doing several hundred years ago because they don’t have the knowledge or access to tools to do things in a different, healthier way. But what really got to me was her description of what women do during their menstruation cycles. It brought back sad memories of me at 14. Those were memories I have done my best to forget.

When I was 14 my parents moved our family to another town about 40 minutes north of where we used to live. If that wasn’t bad enough, after a few months in our new home my mom was committed to the state mental hospital. As the oldest child I ended up being responsible for the housekeeping and taking care of my younger siblings. My alcoholic father came home at 5 and I was expected to have dinner on the table. I was given a little money to do the weekly grocery shopping and my father was fairly specific what I could buy: chicken, cereal, potatoes, milk, bread. It didn’t vary much from that. My father gave us lunch money each week.

I was able to deal with a lot of the adult roles that were put on me, but I lacked guidance for dealing with my menstrual cycle. It had been fairly regular for a couple years. Up to that point my mom made sure I had the necessary supplies each month and beyond that we never, ever talked about it.

When my mom was in the state hospital I was alone when it came to dealing with all the stuff going on with my body. Shame and shyness prevented me from discussing this with anyone. I was far too shy to speak with a teacher or school counselor at my new school. I wouldn’t even talk to my aunt who lived a short drive away (and I’m sure she would’ve bent over backwards to help me). I certainly wouldn’t talk to my father about such things—I was terrified he would beat me over something I couldn’t control.

The first time I ran out of feminine hygiene products I wadded up some toilet paper and used that. I skipped lunch for a couple days until I had saved enough money to buy the things I needed. It was uncomfortable. I was always worried I would bleed through my clothing and everyone would see the blood or my “solution” would slip out of my pants. Could they smell me even though I bathed every day? What little self-esteem I had drained away from me. I wanted to skip school every month. This was a cycle that repeated several times that year. I learned to skip lunch a few times a week just to make sure I had the extra cash for those times. But I was 14 and 14-year-olds aren’t known for their ability to consistently plan ahead.

When Jodi told me about the young girls and women who use corn husks, rags, and ash during their menstrual cycles I could relate to them on some level. I knew how uncomfortable it was to have inadequate hygiene supplies and how it really can destroy your self-esteem. I came really close to dropping out of school that year. I’m still not sure why I stayed in school and I completely understand why these girls would leave school rather than dealing with the stigma related to menstruation. I didn’t realize how the inadequate supplies can cause infections and possibly make these women infertile or kill them.

I know that what I went through is nothing compared to what all of those village girls and women in India experience on a monthly basis. It breaks my heart to think of those girls sitting in schools trying to learn and wondering if they are bleeding through their clothes or sequestering themselves and not learning at all because this process of becoming a woman can make you feel ashamed of your body. No girl should feel body shame. Every girl and woman deserves to feel empowered and happy to be in their bodies.

If the little time I volunteer makes a difference and helps a few girls feel better about themselves, if they are able to feel cleaner, more confident during their monthly cycles and can stay in school longer and become strong community leaders in their villages and teach other girls and women how to take care of themselves and be proud of who they are then maybe I can go back to my 14-year-old self and tell her that what she went through will help others in a worse situation…and then it will all be worth it.


Find a magnet, get free stuff!

Ciao!

Italy was fabulous!

You know the scene in “French Kiss” with Meg Ryan where she is walking the streets and she gestures her hand to the surrounding street saying, “Oh! Beautiful.  Gorgeous.  Wish you were here!”?  That’s what went through my mind several times on my trip.  The architecture, language, food, people, art, culture – all so new and interesting.  Each day left me physically, mentally, and visually exhausted.

I also left several magnets around the area.  I know people are used to stickers, but those are more permanent and I didn’t wish to be a Rude American, visiting another land and leaving graffiti everywhere.  Plus, people could have the option of taking the magnet with them, if they so chose.  Are you reading this post because you found one of our magnets?  If so, send me a pic of the magnet and where you found it and I will send you a free bracelet and hand sanitizer!  jodi@SUM1.org  Be sure to include your name and shipping address, as well. 🙂

And thank you to Christopher for posting while I was away and keeping everyone up-to-date.  We will hopefully hear more from him in his own future posts.

Speaking of such, I will be posting more about the trip as soon as I figure out what to share.  There were so many experiences relevant to our topic at hand.  Not to mention some jet lag to recover from.


Jodi – from home body to world traveller

Guest post from Christopher.

I’m writing today because Jodi is in Italy. Lucky girl. =)  She’s there for the next 10 days with her husband, who was asked by his company to come to Rome to teach a training course next week for the European employees of the company. So she got to join him while I stay home to watch the dog and mow the lawns. lol

I’ve known them both a long time, and I’m so very happy for her. All she wanted to do as a girl was see the world, but until this year she’d only made it out of the country once to Jamaica. This year, all her wishing has paid off, and so Italy is the first leg of her own “Eat, Pray, Love” tour: Italy, Cabo in Mexico for a friend’s wedding in a few months, and finally the big trip to Uttar Pradesh to meet the residents of Saraiya and teach them.

I’m much more of a home body, so I’m perfectly happy to bum around, eat crappy bachelor food while I can, and keep updating the servers and work on brochures for fundraisers. Plus, since I can’t eat gluten, Italian food is a complete waste on me. 😉 She’s under strict orders to come back five pounds heavier from all the amazing food they can sample, and to take as many pics as possible so that I can eat vicariously through her. lol

It’s not all food and games, though. She’s “magnet-bombing” locations with SUM1 magnets we quickly whipped up. She’s already hit the airport in Paris, and will leave them in Rome, Venice, and Tuscany before the long flight home. With any luck, she’ll post a few pics of the trip in the next few days as well.

Well, that’s enough out of me. Still got some work to do before tomorrow. Ciao! — Christopher


Drum Roll Please!

Big changes!

Due to the popularity of the project, +1ndia will now become a separate project of a brand-spankin’-new organization.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honored to present to you, SUM1.  SUM1 = Sanitation Uniting Mankind, 1 person, 1 family, 1 village at a time to change the world.

We are currently in the works of getting our 501(c)3 status.  As soon as we do we are then clear to march ahead with BIG plans and exciting new ideas and ways you can help.

Please stay tuned!


Hope vs. Expectation

What is the difference between ‘hope’ and ‘expectation’?

Our first fundraising event was this past weekend, a variety show with dancing and musical acts. It’s fair to say that I had high hopes and lofty expectations that we would raise a huge chunk of money. We put a whole lot of ourselves into it for the past 3 or 4 months in preparation. There were promotions, social media blitzes, radio ads, posters and flyers, news articles, and more. I organized a presentation, personally performed four times during the show, contacted and arranged for a variety of artists and performers, as well as finding donations for a silent auction and raffles. We also sold custom bracelets and bottles of hand sanitizer printed with the HELP logo.

In the colors of the flag of India

Smells like Green Apple!

I absolutely didn’t do this alone. There were so many people involved that did so much. I have taken the time to acknowledge them and thank them personally, and doing so once more is the least I can do. Again, I am extremely grateful to all of you – you know who you are!  As with all things in life, some people involved were shining saviors while some were less helpful, but thankfully there we more of the former than the latter. I also took away some invaluable lessons about which things worked and what didn’t for future events like this.

But despite what everyone would deem a successful night, I can’t help but feel a little discouraged. That is completely my fault due to my high expectations. I made the mistake of comparing this to other events that I have heard about where people put a lot less effort into them and come out so much farther financially. “I just threw a party and raised $20,000” or “A 9-year-old gave up his birthday and raised $13,000.” I can’t even imagine raising that kind of money at such an event here. Sure, I hoped, but didn’t expect anything close to that. But I admit I did expect a larger turn-out, hoping even to sell out the small theater since that is where most of the planning energy and effort was focused. Simply put, more people in the seats would have equaled more money for Saraiya.

So despite the generous donations, the amazing performances, the volunteers who went above and beyond to help people they don’t know and will never meet, and despite the standing ovation I received, I cannot help but feel unimpressed by the final numbers.

To me, expectations are something concrete. You believe your own hype. They are what you tell yourself will happen, or at least should happen. Expectations are the foundation — stable or not — that you build upon. The reality of the situation tests that foundation and often finds it lacking.

Hopes on the other hand are far more ethereal. Their nature does not allow for anything to be built upon them and you can’t imagine even attempting to do such a thing. They are like sunshine, clouds, and dreams.

Well, time to stop believing my own hype.  I am officially moving on and getting over it.  More fundraising and presentations to be had!  Practice makes perfect, and I am sure that I will get lots of that.


Here and Now

“There are so many important charities out there.  Why should I give to you?”

I hear this a lot lately.  The answer cannot be summed up in just a few words, but I will try to keep it as brief as possible.

Reason #1: Children are dying.  3.5 million children die from diarrhea and acute respiratory infection every year.  Hand washing with soap can prevent these illnesses – it could save 1.2 million of these children.

Reason #2: You can make a difference today.  This is not to raise money for research for a cure or a vaccine.  This is hygiene education.  This is not something that will take place years from now.  It can happen right now.

Reason #3: Your money makes a difference.  It’s not going into anyone’s salary or pay.  I, and everyone involved, are 100% gratis.  So all the donations go to improving the quality of life for the people of India.

Allow me to use HIV research as an example.  You have most likely given some money, let’s say $10, towards this.  Your $10 paid a researcher’s salary for part of an hour.  Don’t get me wrong – what they are doing is important, like many other research foundations.  But they all require a lot of money for progress to be made – billions of dollars over several years.

Diarrhea kills more children under the age of five than AIDS, TB, and malaria combined. And today – right now – you can save 5 lives, 537 school days, and give 150 years of life to the village of Saraiya for $1.74 a person.  I assure you, these are conservative numbers.  If I add in the assistance we will be getting from other organizations like Eco Femme, you can now allow 12 girls to remain in school and empower 537 women for $3.73 a person.  Think about the ripple effect of this – countless numbers will be helped and saved.

Think about the last $10 or $20 you spent, perhaps at Starbucks or Subway.  You didn’t buy anything that made a real impact in anyone’s life.  $1.74 to change the world, today.

Giving to +1ndia you help 1 person, 1 family, 1 village at a time to transform India…and the world.  Look at that – I guess I was able to put it into a few words.

Please contact us via email to learn how you can donate.