Community outreach on hygiene for cyclone-affected families in Bangladesh
By Kathryn Seymour
On World Water Day, 20 March 2008, UNICEF is focusing on the importance of sanitation and hygiene in reaching global goals for safe water. Here is one in a series of related reports.GABTALI, Bangladesh, 19 March 2008 – Pushi is very clean, washing her hands with water and soap whenever she uses the latrine and rinsing out the latrine pan when she is finished. Bulu, on the other hand, never washes his hands. After going to the latrine, he wipes them on his trousers.
Pushi and Bulu are characters in the hygiene play performed by fifth-grade students at Gabtali Registered Primary School in a remote village in south-western Bangladesh.
Students giggle as Bulu, played by Mohamed, 11, clutches his stomach. ‘I always have dysentery. Oh, I have such pains in my stomach,” he says before collapsing across a desk. Pushi, played by Soneya, also 11, chastises Bulu. “It’s your terrible hygiene that has made you sick, you silly man,” she scolds.
Poor Bulu later dies, and Pushi cautions the children to practice good hygiene habits or they might suffer as he did.
Reinforcing hygiene messages
The play is part of a hygiene and sanitation programme introduced by UNICEF in districts affected by Cyclone Sidr, along with partners CARE, Oxfam, Islamic Relief and NGO Forum. A category 4 storm, Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh on 15 November 2007, destroying many homes and most of the latrines in Gabtali.
“Before Sidr, my family had better hygiene, because we had cloths to clean with and we had a tube well. Afterwards, we had nothing,” recalls Soneya,
Under the programme, which is targeting some 10,000 families, social promoters conduct interactive sessions with women and children in schools and courtyards to remind them of the importance of good hygiene. UNICEF is also supplying free latrines to 4,000 families, with priority given to the poorest and those in greatest need.
“After the cyclone, everyone was concerned with getting relief and rebuilding some form of shelter, so hygiene fell behind,” says UNICEF Programme Officer Nazrul Islam. “People didn’t understand how important it was. That’s why these education sessions are so important.”
Sanitation supplies provided
Many families affected by Cyclone Sidr lost other vital hygiene supplies during the storm. In the struggle to get food, clothes and building materials, replacing these supplies was often beyond the reach of local residents.
UNICEF is providing 50,000 sanitary towels and 50,000 bars of soap to women taking part in the courtyard hygiene-education sessions – enough supplies to cover 25,000 households. Combining this distribution with the education sessions helps to send the message that sanitary and hygiene supplies are a crucial investment in family health.
“Not only do people now have soap, clothes and latrines, but they are also becoming more aware of the importance of sanitation and hygiene,” says Renu, a hygiene promoter. “Thanks to the education sessions, their household environments are slowly improving.”