By Biplob Kanti Mondal and Talha Tasnim, IFRC Bangladesh
Two years ago, sickness and disease was commonplace in the family of Shefali Rani. The mother of two from Padmapurkur village in Rangpur district, used to spend much of her time caring for family members suffering from water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, typhoid, and dysentery. Poor awareness of good hygiene coupled with open defecation were the main causes of their recurring infections.
“The diseases and the medical treatments that followed kept us under tremendous pressure to make ends meet and survive,” explained Shefali, adding that the situation for women was doubly difficult when they fall ill. They have to minimize their drinking and wait until nightfall to relieve themselves outdoors as they feared for their safety.
This situation changed when the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society started a Community Development Initiative project in Padmapukur, with technical support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and funding from the Australian Red Cross. The project included the installation of 140 household latrines and 35 tube wells together with a participatory hygiene and sanitation transformation workshop and other interventions that ensured good personal hygiene practices were adopted by 420 families.
Through the initiative, Shefali learned proper handwashing and teeth-brushing techniques, hygienic ways of using the latrine and valuable tips on decreasing iron from drinking water.
“Everyone in my family now washes their hands with soap after going to the latrine,” said Shefali. “We also make sure that we wash our hands before and after taking our meals, when we are preparing food, and when we are cleaning the baby’s stool.”
Having a tube well installed in front of her house motivated Shefali and her family to give up open defecation. The tube wells were built on an elevated terraced area and produce low iron-mixed water for drinking.
“It wasn’t easy turning knowledge into habits,” said Shefali. “We have regular conversations among family members and neighbours to ensure that everyone continues these good hygiene practices. Now we have time to focus on increasing our household income and my children can attend school every day.”
Apart from joining different activities with the Red Crescent Community Development Initiative, Shefali is also an active member of a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene committee in the Imadpur Union. Her work includes convincing other community members to practice good hygiene habits.
“It is an empowering role,” said Shefali. “It brings me closer to the community, and it is good to see that most of the people living here have changed their old habits.”