Millennium development target: halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The statement belongs to the largest NGO in the world, BRAC, a development organization committed to fighting poverty, which was born in 1972 in Bangladesh. The program provides sustainable and integrated laundry service in about half of the country, thus breaking the cycle of contamination caused by latrines, contaminated water, and lack of safe hygiene practices.
The installation of water supply and sanitation systems are not sufficient to improve people’s health; good hygiene practices are needed to obtain the desired result, but at this point, cultural and religious obstacles come into play.
BRAC has taken a number of practical approaches to promote hygiene based on socio-economic and hydrogeological conditions, previous culture and practices. Cluster meetings conducted by the staff in the field of awareness about the use of drinking water, sanitary latrines, and good hygiene practices through the use of different communication tools. So-called “cluster” meetings are held separately for men, women, adolescents, boys and girls, to spread hygiene education on all levels.
To ensure that all users in a particular country receive the transmitted information, the meetings are organized in small groups and involve members of every family.
Given that most of the Bengalese population is of Muslim religion, reaching rural population through religion is an effective way to spread hygiene messages. The mosques have a significant influence on religious rural population. Thus, khutba (sermon) was developed on the basis of verses from the Quran that refer to cleanliness and hygiene. More than 18,000 imams, the main religious and opinion leaders in rural Bangladesh, have been trained in hygiene promotion and it is up to them to deliver these messages during Friday prayers.
A major hurdle is menstrual hygiene, a topic surrounded by taboos and superstitions, often avoided in rural Bangladesh. There are still practices such as the use of rags instead of sanitary pads and superstitious beliefs such as the need to eat less while on period.
The program has taken several measures to improve these features: BRAC health volunteers sell sanitary pads door to door and one of its social enterprises has provided affordable biodegradable napkins available since 1999, to meet the public health needs of poor women and girls in rural areas.
Women who cannot afford buying sanitary pads and still have to use rags, are taught to wash clothes thoroughly, with soap, and dry them in the sunlight. Through these meetings, women and teenage girls do not only learn things about personal hygiene, but also begin to talk about such things, almost unthinkable just a few years ago.
Health is addressed also through the media. Over 14,000 BRAC volunteers the in the field of health have been trained to deliver these messages, interacting with local theater companies and popular media. Since 2014, they hold regular hygiene promotion sessions, implemented also through stalls where you sip your tea: experience has shown that many men are not interested in participating in cluster meetings because of their work schedule. The stalls with tea have proved to be effective spaces to reach this goal.
It is essential to ensure the participation of men in order to reach this goal, since in many cases, they are the ones who decide household expenses.
Maybe we do not think about it, but helping the growth of a people begins from small things. After all, education and knowledge have always been the paradigm for cultural growth, at all times, and in every place.