Community dialogue for effective behavioral change

Protecting communities from Covid-19 starts with hygiene awareness

Jean-Gabriel Uwamahoro
Women helps a child wash his hands
31 March 2022

Bujumbura, Burundi - Buterere is one of Bujumbura's areas which has seen the highest number of cases of pathological diseases related to poor hygiene.

To counter the spread of these diseases, inhabitants of Buterere with the support of UNICEF have organised themselves into a hundred solidarity groups which promote community dialogue between members of a group. 

Francine, a 42-year-old mother of four, is part of one of such solidarity groups. Once or twice a week, she goes around her community to raise awareness on good hygiene practices to fight against Covid-19. 

"When I leave my house, I often bump into a crowd of children waiting for me and asking me to teach them about good hygiene practices. They listen carefully," Francine says happily.

Through this UNICEF-led project funded by the Government of Japan, each of the 2,500 solidary group members received a hygiene kit, a radio and a USB stick containing tips on good hygiene practices. 

The hygiene kit was supplemented with reusable sanitary towels for households with women and girls of childbearing age.  "I am a farmer, I have little income," says Francine. "I earn between 1,500 and 2,000 BIF [the equivalent of $0.75 and $1 dollar] a day."

"Typically, I'd have to spend 6,000 BIF [$3 dollars] a month on single-use sanitary pads for my 17-year-old daughter and I. This is impossible given my meagre income. So my daughter often had to skip school for days during her period." 

"Thanks to this donation, she has a supply of reusable sanitary pads that should last for at least two years," says Francine.

Mother and children pose for a photograph in front of a house

Aline, a 36-year-old mother of 10, is another solidary group member. Two or three times a week, she gets a visit from the group's leader to discuss the health and hygiene situation within the community. 

Together, solidarity group members identify problems related to poor hygiene and suggest solutions to these problems.

"Community dialogue sessions have changed my life," she says. "My children and I used to suffer from malaria because of the puddles of stagnant water around the house, where mosquitoes like to proliferate."

"But with the advice I received from my solidarity group, I clean the house and its surroundings every day. Since then my children are doing well," says Aline.

In addition to her family, Aline shares a single latrine with her neighbours. "Controlling the use of one latrine by more than 20 people can be challenging. But thanks to community dialogue between all of us, the latrine is well maintained," says Aline. 

As a solidarity group member, Aline received vouchers to buy a hygiene kit, including buckets, jerry cans, water storage tanks, and sanitary pads. Aline is now able to easily store drinking water for her family. With the 5-litre jerry cans she acquired, they also have enough water for handwashing with soap. 

The dry season used to bring cases of cholera in the community. But since these dialogues were set up, no cases of cholera or even Covid-19 have been reported, says Aline. With such results, she's more determined than ever to respect and promote good hygiene practices in her community.

All in all, thanks to solidarity groups' community dialogues, more than 49,000 people were made aware of good hygiene practices. Beneficiary communities have successfully put into practice preventive measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and other hygiene-related diseases.