Soniya Akhter | The Trendsetter
The 18-year old Soniya Akhter lives with her parents and three siblings in North Kalshi, Teker Bari, Mirpur 12, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Most of the people in the community are ready-made garment workers.
Soniya had received training on Water and Sanitation Safety Plans, Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), and handwashing under a project titled “Addressing the WASH crisis in Mirpur.” The project is funded by Lindex and supported by WaterAid Bangladesh. The project focused on increasing safe water and hygienic sanitation in the slum community. With adolescent girls in the slum, Soniya promoted hygiene behaviors and improved the health conditions among RMG workers.
Soniya explains, “Before receiving the training, we had little idea of handwashing and using safe toilets or wearing sandals while entering the toilets. The measures are necessary to prevent germs and bacteria and not being affected by various water-borne diseases such as jaundice and diarrhea.
“Keeping our environment clean is a collective responsibility that we all share in the community,” says Soniya.
The knowledge we received changed us in many ways. As a change agent, we understood-- to change the world, we must change ourselves first.
We recognized the importance of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation facilities, personal hygiene, sharing knowledge with peers, and households.
The stigma around menstruation and menstrual blood, women, and girls in the slum feel embarrassed and often wash their menstruation cloths with unclean water.
Sanitary napkins are not widely used in slums, so we cut cloth from old saris and clean those clothes with only water without using soaps and dry it secretively.
As a result, those were always wet and dirty. The cloths thus often remain damp during use and can cause discomfort, rashes or infection. Moreover, women continue to use these rags until they become tattered, regardless of the health risks they pose. However, the situation is not the same anymore. Soniya and girls in the community are able to maintain hygiene and cleanliness.
Clean drinking water points are installed for people to collect water and use it at any time of the day. Clean toilets with disposal facilities and bathing spaces are installed separately for female community members. With the help of such improved water and sanitation facilities and through sharing our knowledge, we have managed to promote to drink clean water; aware women and girls to keep themselves clean during menstruation.
Soniya has also established herself as a successful young entrepreneur with support from the project. She sells sanitary pads to her friends and neighbours. Her initiative has allowed her to support her family financially. Soniya also became a volunteer during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis to support WaterAid Bangladesh in keeping her community safe and healthy.
Explaining her engagement in the Covid-19 campaign, she says, “Earlier, people from outside area used to tell us that we are dirty as we live in a slum and commented that we should always wash and clean ourselves. However, now everyone around us practices handwashing and maintain personal hygiene to fight the pandemic.
As we have been practicing the WASH activities in our area since the project interventions – it was not much difficult for us to understand the significance of wearing a mask, handwashing with soapy water or disinfecting our households and public spaces. We did not only distribute leaflets to prevent spread of Covid-19 but also removing stigma during a pandemic. For us, changing their hygiene behaviors is like helping them move ahead in life with better health choices.”