Supporting communities to access clean water and safe toilets is a vital step towards transforming lives – but without good hygiene practices, it can't guarantee a brighter future.

In many of the communities where we work, scarcity of water means it must be saved for the essentials of cooking and drinking; using it to wash clothes or clean dishes isn't an option. That's why, for us, promoting hygiene is such a critical part of what we do.

It means we can empower communities to take control of their hygiene, from washing food before eating to handwashing with soap and supporting girls and women to look after their menstrual health.

In turn, that not only means staying safe from diseases (research shows that handwashing alone could cut the risk of diarrhoea almost in half, saving hundreds of lives every day) but it also means communities can enjoy the full benefits of having clean water and safe toilets for the first time.

Breaking down the hygiene barriers

Behaviour change is difficult anywhere in the world – which is why talking to communities about hygiene isn't always easy. It often involves challenging age-old taboos, for example those surrounding menstrual hygiene, and asking people to change habits involving handwashing, eating and keeping clean that they've had for generations.

That’s why we don't have a one-size-fits-all approach to hygiene. Instead, we work with partner organisations, members of the community and schools, supporting them to keep clean and healthy so they can spread the word with their friends, family and communities, and ensure the arrival of taps and toilets means the start of lasting change.

The blue hand game, Bangladesh 

The blue hand game

Diseases such as diarrhoea spread fast in schools, but explaining how germs travel can be tricky. Our blue hand game starts with a football covered in blue powder, and ends with a better understanding of how easily germs can spread to hands and faces, underlining the importance of washing your hands before eating. Photo credit: WaterAid/Abir Abdullah

The puppet show, Antenitibe, Madagascar

A hygiene puppet show.

The first time we held our hygiene education show in Antenitibe, the whole community came out to see the six-foot-tall puppets. The children loved it and the response was overwhelmingly positive – a vital first step in developing good hygiene practices in time for new taps and toilets being installed. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Marco Betti

The poster, Sylhet, Bangladesh

Debashish with his friends holding a hygiene education poster.

Working with the tea-picking community in Sylhet isn't just about making sure they have access to safe, clean water. We've also been spreading the word about better hygiene through posters like this one, as well as using plays, music and songs to show the benefits of keeping clean and healthy. Photo credit: WaterAid/GMB Akash/Panos

The card game, Duggor village, India

Men play a menstrual hygiene game.

Until recently, periods were a taboo subject in Duggor Village, India. Our menstrual hygiene education groups not only supported local girls and women to take control of their monthly bleed, but also motivated the men in the village to support them – including through menstrual hygiene card games like this one. Photo credit: WaterAid/Poulomi Basu

The board game, Kisaki Village, Tanzania

Amina and Isaya playing a hygiene education game.

In Kisaki Village, Amina and Isaya play a game of snakes and ladders – with a difference. Their board teaches them the dangers of going to the toilet in the bush and eating fruit without washing it first, and shows how boiling their drinking water and looking after their water source can save them from diseases. Photo credit: WaterAid/Marco Betti