BANGLADESH

Bringing good hygiene to rural Bangladesh through 'Para Centres'

BARAICHARI, Bangladesh, 22 January 2008 – In a classroom made of tin in the Baraichari Village preschool, five-year-old Umenu Marma and her friend clap each other's hands and sing along to the beat. However, this typical children's game has a twist – these girls are singing a rhyme their teacher taught them about good hygiene. The rhyme translates as, "If you don't brush your teeth regularly they will hurt, but if you brush regularly, you can eat anything."

Rhyming games are just one of the many fun and innovative ways in which preschool teacher Apruchi Marma, 24, instructs her students on healthy practices. Ms. Apruchi wears many hats as a teacher and health worker at the Para (Community) Centre. She also maintains health records for the village and holds courtyard meetings to discuss health and hygiene concerns.

On this day, she proudly displays a hand-drawn sanitation map of her village.

"There are four wells," she explains, while pointing to the colourful map. "In the rainy season, all the wells work but during the dry season only two are functional. People are more likely to get diarrhoeal diseases in the drier months because there is less safe water available."


Valuable, life-saving lessons

The Para Centre acts as a one-stop delivery point for basic social services in Bangladesh. Here, children learn valuable lessons about health, nutrition, water and sanitation and receive a pre-primary education.

Currently, there are 2,220 Centres in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, jointly supported by the Government of Bangladesh and UNICEF. Each Centre provides services to approximately 150-200 people.

The majority of the Centres are located in indigenous communities, which might otherwise encounter obstacles in aquiring services due to differences in language, culture and geographical isolation.

A strong impact on health

Limited water and sanitation access is common across the Chittagong Hill Tracts, where, on average, less than a third of the population has access to suitable drinking water.

"I encourage mothers to get their children immunized, to use sanitary latrines, to wash their hands and to use iodized salt. If anyone has diarrhoea, I advise them to go to hospital or take oral rehydration solution," Ms. Apruchi says.

Meanwhile, other Para Centres are also addressing the high incidence of anaemia in this region by administering iron-folate tablets to women and girls.

Ms. Apruchi's energy and dedication has spilled over to the young ones she teaches. From rhyming games to nutrition supplements, Para Centre initiatives are having a strong impact on health care in rural Bangladesh.