Why I wash my hands: Thu’s story of overcoming illness and helping others stay healthy

Bright-eyed and energetic, ten-year-old Bui Thi Thu was a friend to all at the Xuan Phong Primary school in Hao Binh province, Vietnam. She could be found either studying on her own, or playing tag with her friends at the schoolyard. She is also a leader and a “Red Star”, one of the “discipline-keepers” of the class that would help the teacher watch over the younger students and keep things in order when the classroom was left unsupervised.

When she started missing class all of a sudden, everyone felt her absence. Xuan Phong is a little village and word quickly spread to her teachers that she got sick. Like many children in her province, she was exposed to the STH disease because of poor hygiene and sanitation. Little Thu experienced extreme stomach pains and couldn’t eat properly, causing her to lose weight. She barely had enough energy to get up from her bed or walk around her home, much less to attend her classes. When she was well enough to come back to school, her teachers and classmates were surprised at how different she looked. “When I first saw Thu, I even thought that she was in the wrong class. She was too small to be in grade 5 as she looked like she was only 6 [years old]”, her teacher tearfully recollects.

Thrive Networks has had a long-running partnership with many Vietnamese communities, and upon seeing the alarming growth in STH cases, implemented the Integrated Deworming Sanitation, and Hygiene Program to treat young children. Thu received regular treatment and was able to grow into a healthy and active young woman. She is now at the top of her class, excelling in her favorite subjects, math and literature. She helps her classmates adopt better hygiene practices, too, hoping none of them ever get sick the way she did. During one general assembly, she was even chosen to lead a demonstration on how to properly wash one’s hands, something she learned from the deworming program. Regaining her health has inspired her to help create a cleaner and happier environment for herself and her classmates. As she gets older, she hopes to do the same for her whole community, her first-hand experience with illness reminding her of the value of a healthy life.