The third piece of the puzzle
They say good things come in threes, and that principle certainly applies when it comes to WaterAid’s work. As important as clean water and decent toilets are, good hygiene is the final and essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to ensuring that people have a healthy, high quality life that is free from diseases.
Changing people’s behaviour isn’t easy, particularly when it comes to making that behaviour stick for a lifetime. It’s worth thinking about the kind of behaviour change campaigns you see here in Australia, like those targeting drinking and driving; these messages need to be reinforced constantly and require more than one-off campaigns.
As such, WaterAid invests a lot of time into identifying which approaches are the most successful at driving change. In Papua New Guinea, we’ve been learning on the job about the need for combining high quality and appropriate infrastructure with different approaches to increasing handwashing. At each school where we’ve introduced handwashing stations, we examined the impact of ‘nudges’ and sporting-based interventions to learn which ones lead to the highest uptake in handwashing. The results of this will inform our future behaviour change projects in the country.
Our team in Cambodia are continuing to see the success of video and social media as a way of spreading positive messages around handwashing with soap. In the lead up to Global Handwashing Day and the Pchum Ben Festival in October, a short film about washing hands with soap before preparing rice cakes was watched by more than 200,000 people and was shared over 1300 times. This approach has been particularly popular among young people, who we are also targeting via school and community workshops. The decision to reach this audience follows evidence that shows young people are likely to pass on knowledge to their family that they learn in school.
Outside of handwashing, we’ve always been looking at ways to influence attitudes around menstrual hygiene, a topic that continues to grow in global momentum. Our ‘Keeping Girls in School’ project with Marie Stopes International helps teachers educate their classes about menstrual periods and sexual reproductive health, helping to fill a gap in the Papua New Guinean education system where these vital topics are hardly mentioned. Through our government relationships, we are now advocating for this to become part of the school curriculum.
The 12-year-old boy lives in Manufahi, a municipality where taps and toilets have been in short supply. This has all changed recently thanks to WaterAid, who have funded the installation of a new water system and formed a community group to maintain it. WaterAid also runs community education sessions on the importance of following good sanitation and hygiene behaviours, which has led to plenty of positive changes in Nelson’s life. “Because we have running water near our house now, we can wash our hands before eating,” he celebrates.
This article first appeared in WaterAid Australia's Annual Report 2018-19