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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Sanitation and hygiene improve in post-tsunami rural Indian communities

UNICEF Image: India: Tsunami recovery
© UNICEF video
Community volunteer Jeeva goes door-to-door in her village of Thaezanguada, India, to teach children about good hygiene and help families get used to their new indoor toilets.

By Rob McBride

THAEZANGUADA, India, December 2006 – Stepping carefully between puddles left by the latest monsoon, Jeeva moves from one house to the next on an important mission: ensuring that her neighbours know how to use their new toilets.

The young woman’s village is a thriving fishing community on the coast of Tamil Nadu State in southern India. It has undergone radical changes since the tsunami. One of the largest transformations has been the introduction of brand new homes, complete with indoor toilets.

Before the tsunami, very few of Thaezanguada’s residents had used an indoor toilet. Until recently in this part of India, only around 10 per cent of rural homes had them, making this area one of the most underdeveloped in the country when it came to good hygiene practices.

This situation has been gradually changing, with the response to the tsunami disaster providing an opportunity to advance social development in this area.

‘10 commandments’ of good hygiene

“I go to all the houses and see that they know about sanitation and cleaning their toilets properly,” says Jeeva. “And I make sure that the children know about hygiene.”

At each stop, she calls the children together and runs through the so-called ‘10 commandments’ of good personal hygiene. Most of the children seem to know them by heart. On a nearby rooftop, one of Jeeva’s colleagues leads a session of mothers and children through the same list.

In this UNICEF-supported project, one volunteer serves 50 households; providing a valuable resource for educating and motivating the community. 

Divea is one of the children who can tell you the 10 rules without taking a breath. “Before the tsunami, we didn’t have toilets in our houses,” she says. “But now we can use them and know about good personal hygiene.”

© UNICEF video
Jeeva teaches children about the ‘10 commandments’ of good personal hygiene.

Children show the way

With her mother and Jeeva in attendance, Divea shows visitors the toilet – and the bottle of disinfectant used to clean it daily – in the home she and her family moved into just several months ago.

“The women and the children are very quick to learn about hygiene and toilets,” says Jeeva. With a coy smile, she adds: “The men take longer to get the message.”

In this traditional fishing village, convincing men to use the new indoor facilities (rather than the shoreline, or the land surrounding their homes) presents an uphill struggle. But now, even that is changing – with children often showing the way.

Puppet show gets messages across

Embracing the principle that when children talk, their parents listen, a local NGO partner gets ready for a special puppet show in the centre of the village as darkness falls. Performed by children, the show will inform the audience about the importance of good hygiene, and at the same time spread other messages such as the need to respect child rights. 

“It’s a very lively way to get the message across,” says UNICEF staff member Nisha Rachel Ninan. “It doesn’t make an impact just on other children, but on the entire community.”

With that, the loudspeakers crackle into life and music signals the start of the show as the audience settles in to watch and listen. This is a community very much transformed since the crisis of two years ago. In some respects it is still recovering, but in others it is now functioning better than it did before the tsunami.




December 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on efforts to promote good hygiene practices in rural Indian villages ravaged by the tsunami.
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