Bars of soap for cultural orientation hygiene lesson

Discussing hygiene norms with refugees arriving to the United States is a vital, but sometimes difficult task. In April, CORE hosted a webinar to highlight best practices on educating refugees about hygiene during Cultural Orientation. This was part of a new set of resources, including a podcast, fact sheet, and supplemental hygiene lesson plan created by CORE to address the topic.

Risper Odira, Senior Cultural Orientation Trainer with Church World Service at RSC Africa, and Ashley Hoober, Cultural Orientation Coordinator for International Rescue Committee in Phoenix, offered their tips for conducting successful hygiene lessons during Cultural Orientation.

To listen to the interviews, stream the podcasts below. The full 30-minute webinar is also available.

5 Tips to Make Your Hygiene Curriculum Shine

1. Incorporate messages throughout Cultural Orientation

Hygiene key messages can be incorporated as a part of multiple Cultural Orientation topics. For example, refugees en route to the U.S. will encounter western-style toilets in airports and airplanes, so RSC Africa covers it when they discuss travel in pre-departure Cultural Orientation, Odira said. The organization also discusses toilet cleaning when teaching refugees what to expect in their new homes and makes connections to hygiene in relation to looking for a job.

2. Know your clients

Conduct a needs assessment. Know the learners. Don’t go into a hygiene lesson unprepared, Odira and Hoober said.

By doing a needs assessment, you can fill in knowledge gaps and address concerns, Odira said. For example, if the class is familiar with U.S. norms, Hoober uses the session to focus on where to buy items and how to say all the products in English.

3. Show, don’t tell

Odira and Hoober suggested activities that show refugees what they will encounter in American bathrooms. Listen to the podcasts below or download CORE’s supplemental lesson plan for more ideas.

  • Toilet demonstration overseas: Before arriving in the United States, some refugee populations, particularly those coming from refugee camps, may not have experience with a western toilet. Odira said RSC Africa uses a working toilet to demonstrate how to flush it properly.“I was training camp-based participants, and I was doing a demonstration using the realia,” Odira said. “When I flush the toilet, a number of participants were shocked. In fact, they ran away because they couldn’t understand why a toilet would produce such a sound and they could see water. So this is a situation where you see culture shock in the participants.”
  • Domestic bathroom visit: Once the clients arrive in the United States, Hoober reinforces the overseas message. In a voluntary activity, she separates the class by gender and takes them into the bathroom to demonstrate hand washing, sitting on the toilet, placing toilet paper in the bowl, and using the trash for non-paper items. She also explains the importance of locks and privacy in public bathrooms.

4. Be professional, but recognize discomfort

Discussing hygiene can often be uncomfortable, but Odira says you overcome that by using straightforward and professional language. If you’re using an interpreter, ensure they are aware of the lesson and keywords ahead of time.

Hoober says she invites clients who are shy or embarrassed to reach out to her privately during breaks or after class with questions.

5. Remember that adopting new habits is challenging, but reinforce the benefits

It’s important to remember that you might be asking clients to change lifelong practices. That takes time, Odira said.

For example, some refugees might be from locations with water scarcity. They might not be accustomed to the shower and laundry frequency of the United States.

Odira said her goal is to reinforce that adapting to U.S. hygiene norms is one of the “best ways to have a good acculturation in the U.S. This will help them get jobs and keep them. Practicing good personal hygiene may influence the relationships with the people they interact with on a daily basis.”

Listen to the full interviews with Odira and Hoober: