Often the solutions to intricate problems are fairly simple. October 15 is a day dedicated to such a straightforward solution to a mighty problem. Tanmoy Bhaduri narrates the story of how children in remote villages of Bihar and Jharkhand are moving strongly towards a healthier future, with just a piece of soap in hand…
An effort to advocate for the importance of cleanliness and the ramifications a hygienic life can have has resulted in demarcating October 15 as the Global Handwashing Day.
In the effort to reach the most resource-poor regions of the country, one of the issues any non-governmental organisation faces is the missing habit of maintaining cleanliness and hygiene.
What I have learnt from my visits to the villages in and around the country is that there is a basic lack of awareness about the importance of washing hands. Not only do people not see the need for it, but it is culturally and traditionally not a practice that has been encouraged to grow.
In an anganwadi in a secluded hamlet of Birhors in the Satgawan Block in Koderma District (near the Bihar – Jharkhand border), it was a huge challenge to get the community to take a bath, let alone getting them to wash hands before and after a meal or going to the toilet!
The Birhors as a community are a hunting and gathering society. They eat what they can hunt. It took the staff of Rashtriya Jharkhand Seva Sansthan, a project supported by CRY-Child Rights and You, more than eight years to make them realise that they could prevent their children from getting a number of diseases by just washing their hands with soap.
Today, the anganwadi worker makes sure that the children come to the anganwadi after taking a bath and wash their hands before and after they have been served breakfast and lunch.
It is a well-known fact that a lot of children are attracted to school because of the midday meal scheme introduced by the government. It was good to see how a school in the intervention area of Jawhar Jyoti Bal Vikas Kendra, a project supported by CRY in Bihar, used the same scheme to instil habits of cleanliness in the children.
“The children have been repeatedly asked to wash their hands before their meals. Else we do not allow them. Earlier we had to monitor them every day. Consistent efforts have led to a time where the children go and get the soap by themselves and make sure everyone washes their hands before and after meals and using the toilet,” says the headmaster of the school in the village of Damodarpur Haveli in Samastipur, Bihar.
According to the United Nations, over 1.5 million children under five die each year as a result of diarrhoea. It is the second most common cause of child deaths worldwide. Washing hands with soap at critical times – including before eating or preparing food and after using the toilet can reduce diarrhoea rates by more than 40%!
Like I said in the beginning, some solutions are simple. We just need to find them and implement them.