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Next to Godliness

By Ben Cohen | 28 May 2019

Some people are never without their fitness trackers. Zargul from rural Afghanistan has a ‘wellness tracker’ and she keeps it in her pocket.

‘I carry soap with me. I wash my hands three times: before eating, before cooking and after using the outhouse. I wash the dishes with dish soap and cover them afterwards while they dry.’

Only a few months ago it was a very different story – Zargul kept falling ill.

She lives with her husband and children in Yoghin, rural Afghanistan. Every couple of days she would go down with diarrhoea and nausea. Nobody in the village could tell her what was wrong.

They would tell her ‘you ate too much’ or ‘you ate too fast’. Sometimes they would even tell her it was the jinn (evil spirits) that were making her so weak. Actually, the problem was a lot more down to earth than that. 

‘I thank God I am alive.’


Zargul works as a shepherd. At the end of the day her hands would be caked in dirt and blood. You’d think she would want to wash her hands before she started eating, but she didn’t: ‘I was told I would lose the blessing of our Mullah if I did.’

Clean break
When one of Tearfund’s Afghan partner organisations came to town to teach basic hygiene, she discovered something that has changed her life: there wasn’t anything spiritual about not washing her hands. Far from being a blessing, it was the reason for the terrible stomach upsets that followed when she ingested all the germs.

Worse still, she had nearly lost her son to a similar bout of sickness. As he weakened, she withheld food and drink as she was told to do by fellow villagers. It was only when she offered him a little boiled water as a ‘sawab’ – a spiritual reward to help the dying – that he started to recover. She learned a lesson and nursed him back to life.


L-R: Zargul with her 'wellness tracker', her husband standing proudly by his home made outhouse.

The three days of training were a revelation to Zargul. It has turned her and her family’s lives upside down.

‘Before I used to go to the bathroom anywhere if there wasn’t a latrine. Now I know to bury my poo. My husband worked very hard to build an outhouse. I put water and soap in there for handwashing.

‘I thank God I am alive.’


If you have the gift of hands, hold them out with your palms open.
Think of all the years you’ve been able to keep your hands clean and well looked-after.
Thank God for resources and knowledge that have made this possible.
Take another look at your hands and pray for all the good you are able to do with them – how you can help friends and strangers, and how you are able to help so many others around the world like Zargul.  

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Written by Ben Cohen

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