Young boy washing his hands at an event in Ethiopia
the latest

PMC Celebrates Global Handwashing Day: Hygiene Education in Remote Areas

Oct 15, 2020

Global Handwashing Day is an observance holiday celebrated by the Global Handwashing Partnership and other organizations – Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, UNICEF, and more – on October 15. The focus of Global Hand Washing Day 2020 is “Hand Hygiene for All.” Amidst a global pandemic, it is critical that hygiene education is promoted in every country in the world.

It’s difficult to properly care for children when you are not educated in basic hygiene. This underlying obstacle contributes to numerous deaths and illnesses in Ethiopia’s hard-to-reach woredas (districts) of the Afar and Somali regions, especially among children. This is especially critical during a pandemic.

With funding from UNICEF, Population Media Center (PMC) embarked on a mission to bring a water, sanitation, and hygiene and cholera prevention project to rural areas in Ethiopia.PMC, a nonprofit leader in entertainment for social good, is accustomed to impacting knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors in hard-to-reach areas around the world, but these locations were considered “remote” even by PMC standards.

Individuals living in these areas experience almost incomprehensible poverty, very little water, limited roads, and next to no infrastructure — explaining the otherwise perplexing lack of fundamental information about hygiene.

Using PMC’s proven social behavior change communication, PMC-Ethiopia produced two radio shows, Hangi Ala’ah (“Focus on Children“) in the Afar language and Daryel (“Care for Children”) in the Somali language, both 60 episodes long. These shows aim to motivate and educate women and caregivers on the necessary hygiene practices to keep their families healthy.

Young girl washing her hands

The PMC team knew in-person performances and events, despite the difficulty of traveling to these locations, would be an absolute necessity on top of the broadcasts. The events included music and theater performances along with education segments on proper handwashing techniques.“First I come here to listen to music not for education because I like music. After I come here, I am interested to listen the drama, it is very important and it teaches us about handwashing, child playground sanitation, food hygiene and child excreta disposal,” shared Fatuma, a resident of Afdera.

Fatuma also shared how her hardships have shifted. She used to have no water, but a water source installed by UNICEF has improved her ability to get water. Without any hygiene education, however, she still could not properly care for herself or her family. Many preventable illnesses commonly plagued Fatuma and other members of her community.

To address the need for hygiene education, PMC’s two 60-episode radio shows, supplementary talks shows, and radio spots would be vital to reaching families across the regions.

“The project is very important for illiterate mothers like me who have not had adequate access to information pertaining to child health before…I have gained knowledge of personal hygiene and sanitation such as handwashing with soap or ash and safe child feces disposal,” shared Dichoto Kebele, a show listener in the Elidar woreda.

PMC projects leverage previous investments in infrastructure, like UNICEF’s water source, making existing resources far more effective. Knowledge and attitudinal shifts are often needed to inspire people to utilize community resources in meaningful ways and create real social change.

PMC reaches large audiences. This allows for substantial immediate communal impact and also creates community leaders who continue to role model preferred behaviors and spread knowledge. We know the residents in these hard-to-reach areas can now live healthier lives and combat common, but deadly, illnesses. This is only more crucial today as the world grapples with a global pandemic.