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Child cricketers take on hand-washing challenge

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Iftikhar
Children on high alert at the cricket ground.
By Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 16 June, 2010.  “How’s that?,” yells a child bowler as he turns to the umpire appealing for a leg before wicket (LBW). As soon as the umpire raises his pointer in approval, the whole team bursts into joy and exchanges high fives to celebrate the fall of a wicket of the opposing team.
It was quite intriguing to see a group of children playing serious cricket, especially at a time when Football World Cup fever has gripped the nation.

These disadvantaged children who used to live on the streets are now receiving support from a UNICEF project for children at risk which is implemented through local NGOs in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Divided into two full teams, they’re playing a practice match at the Dhaka University Gymnasium ground.
“Cricket is our favourite game,” says Jewel Akhter Rana, 14, who is living at the drop-in-centre of the NGO Aparajeyo Bangla.

“We prefer playing cricket to football, although we have both a football and a cricket team at our centre,” explains his teammate Al Amin Hossain Shamim. “Besides, in the Football World Cup our country is not playing, but in the Asia Cup Cricket, Bangladesh is competing.”

Children advocate for hand-washing

Sport helps children develop both physically and mentally and, through playing, they learn new skills and competences such as leadership, team-building, organization and discipline. But the power of sports can also be harnessed to encourage children to adopt safe hygiene practices such as hand-washing, which is critical in reducing diarrheal diseases and other illnesses.

Last year in October, on Global Hand Washing Day, the captain of the Bangladeshi cricket team Sakib Al Hasan recorded a public service announcement which was broadcast on various TV channels in an effort to promote hand-washing.

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Iftikhar
Exchanging high-5 with clean and healthy hands.
A study conducted by UNICEF in 2007 in selected areas of Bangladesh revealed that less than 1 per cent of people were washing both of their hands with soap before preparing food and before eating. Although 56 per cent of people reported washing their hands with soap or ash after going to the toilets, only 17 per cent were actually seen to do this when observed. 

“All people must wash their hands at four critical times,” says Md. Nazim Uddin, 14, a student of standard-V, recollecting the TV spot featuring his favourite player.

Jewel Akhter Rana, 14, believes that the impact of health-related messages is greatly increased if the message comes from national cricket celebrities like Sakib Al Hasan, Mohammad Ashraful or Tamim Iqbal. “If our idols say something, we tend to pay heed to it. Also, we feel good that these people really think about our health, about us,” he said.

The children themselves participated in activities for Global Hand Washing Day which left a long lasting impression on them and reinforced their willingness to adapt hygienic practices.  “After the match, we will either take a bath or clean our hands with soap,” said Mohammed Shujon Mia, 16, who lives at the drop in centre run by another NGO, Population Services and Training Centers.

“By washing our hands we not only remain clean, we also keep ourselves free from diseases like diarrhea, jaundice, dysentery, stomach ache, worm infestation and scabies,” added his friend Md. Ashik Iqbal, 14.

A variety of health and social issues are discussed at their centres, including hygiene, food and nutrition, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, drug addiction, dengue fever, safe water and water-borne diseases. The children learn about ways to protect themselves from disease, and practice good hygiene.  

They then share these messages with their peers. Among the 22 players present at the cricket match, 13, work as child representatives in their schools and localities to educate people about things like the importance of hand-washing.

“Many of us work as peer educators and child experts, and we try to sensitize our friends and neighbours on many vital health, hygiene and social issues,” said Rubel Hossain Hanif.

Most of the children here also harbor serious ambitions to become world-class cricketers.  When asked if they would still commit their time and energy to social work if they became successful cricketers, they said that there was no reason why they wouldn’t since their idol, Sakib Al Hasan, has set the example.



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