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Bangladesh - Hygiene promotion © Sébastien Duijndam
pour Action contre la Faim


1 year after the Rohingya's exodus

Using songs as a tool to raise awarness

Habibur Rahman sings to a local rhythm, but the words are not what you would expect. They speak of hygiene practices, such as handwashing, to help prevent diseases. They state precautions, while addressing the problems that worry the group: the difficulty of finding medicines if one falls ill and the cost of the treatment that can be avoided if these simple rules are respected.

Habibur Rahman is a Rohingya himself, he fled his country in 2008.

« I crossed the border with my instrument andin2009 I started to work with Action Against Hunger. I learnt how to play the mandolin at the age of 15 years old in my village. Here, I write lyrics about hygiene promotion and compose music »


This musical approach may surprise but its impact is undeniable. The tearoom owner has also changed his hygiene practices and invites his customers todo the same. Situated on the roadside, the place is very busy, which facilitates raising the awareness of a great number of people.

Mohammad Belal Uddin is the water, sanitation and hygiene project manager. He leads these meetings with the camp residents, supported by community volunteers and the singer. He manages the session, ensures that people understand the messages and distributes a basic hygiene kit containing a towel, nail-clipper and soap to the participants. “A year ago, we began to work with new arrivals. The conditions were terrible: no access to water, no latrines, and no waste management. The people threw their rubbish and faeces into the canals. This was the perfect situation for the development of water-related diseases such as diarrhoea that can lead to malnutrition. Now, even though the shelters are makeshift, there is more access to basic services. Knowledge and behaviour have also improved »

Selim Kham himself experienced the same evolution within his family. He fled Myanmar in 2008 due to a similar violent situation and, at just 28 years old, heis now a community volunteer for Action Against Hunger. « I am happy to have the opportunity to teach people how to improve their living conditions and prevent disease. I am learning at the same time. I have convinced my family and neighbours of the importance of such behaviour. I have a 4 year old boy. Now, every time my wife gives him some food, she makes sure that he has washed his hands before eating. In Myanmar, we washed our hands using only water. Now, we know that we have to use soap. These small details make a big difference. »

Learning through play

A few alleys away, another type of hygiene promotion session is taking place. Far from the serious atmosphere of the tea room, around fifteen children are gathered under a bamboo-covered patio. Between fits of laughter, the community volunteers have a hard time disciplining everyone. Gradually, the boys and girls start to settle. The session can begin: a role play to explain how germs are transmitted from one person to another, by touch. Taking turns, the children repeat the seven stages for washing their hands.

Several hours later, there will be a managing waste workshop for the children «they learn quickly and share their knowledge with their relatives. Itis extremely important to educate the new generation so that behaviours change » explains Monina Yasmin, water, sanitation, and hygiene project manager. A volunteer approaches the group with a basket in her hand. Iridescent reflections grabs the attention of the younger children. Each one receives a ball wrapped in brightly-coloured paper. The excitement is paramount and the paper is quickly torn off. Thrown on the ground, the packaging sticks into the mud. Gently, the volunteers explain the good reflexes to adopt: throw the rubbish into the designated places and burn that which is contaminated with organic substances.

« We also organise sessions specifically for young girls and women on menstrual hygiene. We have noticed that awareness about menstruation was poor. This lack of information leads to bad practices and under these deplorable sanitary conditions, contributes to developing infections and diseases,͟Monina tells us.͞At the beginning of the sessions, we reassure the women. This is a normal and natural phenomenon that every woman experiences. They are not to feel ashamed. We explain how the menstrual cycle works, how to disinfect the protection used and how to dispose of the waste. I like the fact that I can help people. When I meet them again, they often call me Apa1, and say ͞thank you for coming͟, and that makes sense to me »

1 Apa, terme générique signifiant « sœur » pour s’adresser à une femme

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