Rubaiya, aged 10, lives with her parents in Palashbari, a sub-district of Gaibandha in northern Bangladesh. As in many villages in the country, only a small proportion of people in her village have typically had access to a latrine so open defecation was common and only a few people washed both hands with soap before eating or preparing food. Diarrhoea, typhoid and other WASH-related diseases were common; preventable infectious illnesses that resulted in the deaths of many children.
“Washing hands regularly with soap and water is one of the most simple, affordable and effective ways of preventing ill-health and saving lives.” WHO (2013)
The South Asia WASH Results Programme (SAWRP) has made a real difference to hygiene in Rubaiya’s village. SAWRP is a four-year programme that enables access to improved water facilities, sanitation and hygiene for 6.6 million people living in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Funded by the UK Government’s Department of International Development (DFID), the SAWRP consortium is led by Plan International in partnership with WaterAid, WSUP, Unilver, Ipsos MORI and WEDC. WSUP has been working with Unilever Bangladesh to implement a handwashing education programme in Bangladesh.
Unilever’s ‘School of Five’ campaign, a series of activities promoting handwashing with soap, has been rolled out in numerous Bangladeshi schools – including Rubaiya’s. Children have learnt about the scientific reasons for washing their hands with soap and the best times to wash their hands, and have been encouraged to teach their families and communities about what they have learnt.
Rubaiya was determined to share her new knowledge and joined her school’s ‘Little Doctors’ club to find out even more. Her family and neighbours had previously had no knowledge of the importance of handwashing and did not habitually wash their hands with soap. “I taught twenty-six people how and when to wash both hands with soap,” says Rubaiya.
Because her family could not often afford medicine or doctors, Rubaiya and her siblings had to miss school if they became ill with hygiene-related diseases. Today, the situation in her neighbourhood and household has changed due to Rubaiya’s enthusiasm for sharing her new knowledge. She has helped to educate her family and her neighbours and is committed to sharing handwashing practices with the wider community.
Hygiene behaviour has improved dramatically as a result of SAWRP. Since the School of Five campaign was carried out in Rubaiya’s school, WSUP Bangladesh and their implementing partner ESDO have continued hygiene education activities in the school and others to sustain handwashing practices.
WSUP is supporting school management councils and parent-teacher associations to actively speak to parents and educate them on the importance of the School of Five approach. In some areas, such as the Chandpur district, parents have contributed money to schools so that they can maintain new handwashing devices and supplies of soap.
As children like Rubaiya grow up and teach their own children about handwashing and hygiene, there is real potential for these positive changes to continue to spread and stretch well into the future.