“I had severe stomach disorder and diarrhea for a long time. I underwent several medicinal treatments but none gave permanent relief. My poor health was a big impediment for all work commitments. In February, 2011 I did Nav Chetana Shivir of Art of Living which also had an awareness program on diarrhea and gastroenteric infection. They explained the root cause and symptoms for these diseases and what measures to take to eliminate them. They also explained the importance of keeping hygiene at home and in surrounding area and of washing hands with soap. Before this program I was not aware of these habits and I started to follow them along with yoga, pranayam and meditation as taught in the course. After a few days of regular practice my health improved. I gained back my enthusiasm and interest in life. Now I find no mental and physical barriers in life. Moreover I too began teaching yoga, pranayam, meditation and I spread awareness about safe sanitation.”
– Namal Ray, a campaign participant
In the three districts of Assam where we worked, awareness levels on basic hygiene were perilously low. Our pre-intervention survey suggested that only half the population had access to toilets and of those merely a quarter used it. Barely 33% of the population was aware of the benefits of washing hands before eating. Because of these habits, diarrhea and similar diseases were rife.
We conducted awareness programs in schools, spread the word through religious functionaries, and organized sanitation & hygiene sessions in multiple villages.
The Art of Living team successfully executed multiple short term and long term relief initiatives:
Safe Sanitation programs were conducted in an interactive and creative manner involving the school children thus spreading awareness among the students and the community.
Workshops were conducted that were specially designed for the socially challenged to bring about an inner transformation leading to better health and hygiene practices. Community members were taught the importance of basic sanitation. Thorough an intensive campaigning they were encouraged to adopt the habit of washing hands with soap and water after defecation and before having meals.
Sanitation kits were distributed amongst the community members and its importance was demonstrated to spread hygiene awareness in the community
After being sensitized, many community members voiced the wish to build a toilet at home. Cost estimates and the proper use of toilets were provided and the villagers were all encouraged to use toilets.
On completion of the door-to-door campaign, the empowered youth in the community did a general survey to check the progress and it was found that already about 30% of the locals had adopted the hand washing habit and others promised to follow suit.
conducted with 2100 participants
Hand washing, being one of the most basic and simple personal hygiene practice happens to be an indispensable tool to the prevention of Gastroenteric diseases. Hand washing with soap and water reduces diarrheal morbidity by 44 per cent.
With this in mind, the project was aimed at bringing about attitudinal changes in the mindsets of people, in turn impacting the cultural fabric of communities and voluntarily inculcating the habit of hand washing. Since children are most vulnerable, awareness and inculcation of healthy habits at an early age can literally help wash their hands clean of Gastroenteric diseases and directly reduce the child morbidity and mortality rate.
Demonstrations were held much to the children’s delight and they were encouraged to take up the habit of hand washing at home as well as in school. Along with practical education and utilitarian support, it was crucial to hand over spiritual tools for the holistic benefit and transformation of the communities.
The intervention took place from inside out as local youth were trained in YLTP camps to mobilize this valuable change. Community leaders created as a result of the YLTP program took over the responsibility of educating their respective communities. Moreover, local authorities such as the Gram Panchayat were sensitized and involved in the mobilization. Yet another way of reaching the masses with direct contact was via local Kathavachaks. Lastly, Nav Chetana Shibirs were held in each locality thus completing the process of facilitating internal transformation.
Poor hygiene factor is one of the major reasons behind recurring diarrheal diseases. Educating the masses is perhaps as important as creating improved sanitation infrastructure. Sincere and dedicated efforts by the intervening agency at the grassroots level leads to active involvement of community members essential to bring about a perceptible change and attain sustainability in any project.
What we achieved in Assam is a good example for the kind of change that can be brought about if a sense of community ownership is built. We would like to initiate similar programs in other areas. Technical and financial partnerships can help us to advance that goal.