A critical part of our WASH project is the training sessions that we conduct with each family that receives a water pump or sanitation unit. During these sessions, we engage in discussions with the adults of each household and use demonstrations and interactive activities to help them understand the importance of drinking clean water, using toilets (rather than going in the forest), and engaging in other hygiene behaviours. The presence of this knowledge within the community is crucial to ensuring that the benefits of the project are sustainable, which in this case means having improved hygiene and sanitation behaviours maintained over time.
In addition to adults, children are crucial to sustaining the improvements in hygiene behavior. Instilling the principles and routines of good hygiene behavior in children at a young age is an effective way to establish positive life-long habits that can then be passed on from generation to generation.
To ensure that the children are reached by our training efforts, we have adopted two strategies. The first is to educate the children directly through our Children’s Welfare program. We have designed games that incorporate important lessons about sanitation and hygiene into our daily lessons with the children that make the learning process engaging and participative.
The second strategy is to ensure that our training sessions given to the adult population are targeted to the community members that are most likely to transfer knowledge and practice to their children. Through our day-to-day experience in Prolit Village, we fairly quickly understood that adult women were likely to be the best group to target, as it was our sense that females run the households and are responsible for taking care of the children.
But rather than relying on our intuition and general impression of the family dynamics in Prolit, we decided it would be better to have the children of Prolit tell us themselves how their families function. Nobody knows who children listen to and respect more than children themselves! So we designed an activity that would help us understand how the kids of Prolit view each of their relatives, their family family as a whole, and their own place within their family system.
One day at the Children’s Welfare project, we asked each child to draw a picture of themselves in the middle of a piece of paper and each of their family members in a circle around them. We then asked them to draw a different type of line from the picture of themselves in the middle of the page to the person in their family who they shared a particular relationship with; for example, we asked them to draw a straight line to the person they respect the most, a squiggly line to the person they spend the most time with, a dotted line to the person they fear the most, and quite a few more. The end result was a collection of beautiful, circular diagrams (like the one pictured above) containing spectacular insights into the family dynamics of almost every family in Prolit, from the perspective of a child. The kids had a ball doing it and we did too!
But more importantly, after converting the diagrams into numerical data, here is what we found:
- Most children identified their mothers as their primary caregiver, the person they respect the most, and the person they spend the most time with.
- In cases where mothers are not present (i.e. they are working in Thailand, or have passed away), aunts and sisters tend to take on these roles. This was a very common situation.
As a result of this activity, we learned that, for the most part, our training sessions should be targeting the mothers in each household, as they command respect, spend a lot of time with their children, and are therefore more likely to share their learning with them. We learned that we need to pay close attention to the circumstances of every family we conduct training with and discuss with the families who should attend based on who the primary caregivers for that specific family are. We also learned that children are a rich source of information not to be neglected when designing our projects!
Since conducting this little activity (quite a few months ago), we have trained 35 families using newly installed water pumps and sanitation units, and our targeting adult females seems to have paid off, as both are being used at a tremendous rate. Anecdotal feedback from the families suggests that the health improvements are starting to be felt; we can’t wait to collect the hard data to back that up!
Stay tuned to this space, and our facebook page for updates!
-Alex Fidler-Wener and Max Laskin