Our Current Work: Project RENEW
Our current project will Repair broken wells and latrines and provide hygiene Education, creating New resources that will Endure and provide Water (RENEW) to people in the slums of Ward 12, which will reduce the risk of waterborne disease. Each of the key aspects of this project is essential to combating the spread of waterborne illnesses in Ward 12:
1. Repair & Replacement
In Ward 12, as in many other poor areas of Bangladesh, other NGOs have built wells and latrines in the past, but often they have moved on to other areas without providing support that would allow the local community to maintain them, and thus these resources become rusty, parts start to fail, and slowly the wells and latrines fall into disrepair. In a crowded peri-urban slum like Ward 12, these broken facilities take up valuable space, as pollution and close-knit housing leave few viable sites for well construction.
Thus, Brighter Dawns takes advantage of existing well and latrine sites, engaging in a repair-and-maintenance-first approach to the water and sanitation crisis in Ward 12. Based on an assessment we conducted with our partners at Uttaran in April 2013, there are at least 25 deep tube wells and 40 sanitary latrines that need to be either partially or completely replaced. We have surveyed the damage on each of these wells and latrines, and are currently finalizing plans to repair the first 4 wells and 2 latrines this November-December.
2. Building to Expand Access
Even if all of the broken wells and latrines in Ward 12 are repaired, however, there would still be a large burden on these limited resources. Only a limited number of households can safely share a well or latrine, meaning that densely populated communities like Ward 12 need more resources to truly have safe access. Additionally, the slums of Ward 12 consist of multiple camps, and thus people in some camps may live too far from the repaired facilities to use them without sacrificing work or school time to travel there.
Thus, once the repair and maintenance phase is complete, Brighter Dawns will conduct further assessments to better understand the remaining need for improved tube well and sanitary latrine access in Ward 12’s slums, and build additional facilities where appropriate to meet this need.
3. Community Engagement & Monitoring
The repair & maintenance aspect of our project promotes community building by turning derelict spaces into a shared resource, and we hire and train local people responsible for ensuring maintenance of the wells and latrines as community health workers (CHWs). The CHWs are local women who are unemployed or facing financial difficulties, who know their neighbors well and thus can work well in gathering information on the project’s status. This creates a community-driven approach to water and sanitation, where we provide the initial funding for a project in which the community has expressed interest, and help them build the skills and knowledge to maintain it.
4. Hygiene Education
Our CHWs are also essential to the fourth component of our project: hygiene education. Health education has been used in many settings as a powerful tool for promoting understanding of the ways in which everyday behaviors can promote improved health – and hygiene education is an important part of the fight against the spread of communicable diseases in crowded and impoverished areas that are highly susceptible to these risks. Thus, the CHWs are trained to conduct group seminars on how diseases can spread through water, and hygiene practices that can prevent them, such as hand-washing and proper food preparation.
The seminars target two key groups: women and school-aged children. In Bangladesh’s slums, women are generally responsible for collecting water, cooking and caring for young children. Thus, in order to reduce illness and death due to waterborne diseases among infants and young children, it is essential to give mothers, grandmothers and older sisters the knowledge necessary to keep the young children in their families alive and healthy. Second, the CHWs hold seminars at local schools for children – including both official schools and unofficial classrooms that exist in the community for children who cannot afford school – to teach them about how germs spread and how to wash their hands properly. This approach has been used elsewhere in Bangladesh because it has two positive impacts: children form good hygiene habits from an early age, and moreover they tell their parents about what they learn in school, bringing these healthy practices into the home and benefiting their more vulnerable younger siblings.
5. Mobile Technology
The key to our project’s success is continued, community-based monitoring, which we achieve through data collection programs that can be accessed by mobile phone . Even in the slums where electricity and water are scarce, phones are cheap and easily accessible, and thus cell phone-based monitoring provides an opportunity for community health workers to collect data using technology that is both familiar and readily mobile. The CHWs perform regular assessments of all of the repaired well and latrine sites and submit a brief form on their status. In addition, the CHWs use the same technology to conduct periodic surveys on community feedback, hygiene behavior, and waterborne disease incidents, so that we can track the success of our programs in building healthy behaviors and reducing preventable illness and death in this community.
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