Simple daily practices often prove instrumental in preventing disasters. This is of heightened relevance in a post-COVID world, where washing hands with soap has saved thousands of lives.
The pandemic helped reinforce the importance of basic hygiene in our daily lives especially in a country like India, where people in only 35.8 per cent of households wash their hands with soap and water before a meal.
Handwashing tends to get neglected due to low risk perception, forgetfulness, and inconvenient access to handwashing areas. Research has shown that people think washing hands with water is enough without realizing the risk of infections. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), good hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Recognising this disparity, a Gujarat-based NGO, Shakti Foundation, came up with a unique idea – to train and spread awareness about the proper practices of hand hygiene by attempting to break two Guinness World Records.
With the support of the Women and Child Development Ministry of Gujarat and Hindustan Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap, they organised a handwashing campaign on October 2, 2020 to commemorate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi who made hygiene and sanitation an integral part of the Gandhian way of living.
One Hand At A Time
As of March 2020, Unilever’s Lifebuoy has donated hygiene supplies like hand washing soap, sanitiser and bleach worth over Rs 430 Crore (€50 million) to the COVID Action Platform of the World Economic Forum, which is helping several global health organisations respond to the current emergency.
But, even before the pandemic, Lifebuoy has continuously been involved in efforts to bring about behavioural change around handwashing and hygiene practices, especially in rural areas.
“The journey towards creating programmes for schools and mothers, and campaigns such as Global Handwashing Day, has been rich with learnings. In these tough times we are continuing to identify and evaluate how the use of new channels and technology can help to deliver behaviour change more efficiently, effectively and at greater scale, for instance by using television and mobile phones”, said Srirup Mitra, Vice President, Skin Cleansing, Hindustan Unilever.
Lifebuoy runs one of the world’s largest handwashing programmes. Since 2010, Lifebuoy has made strong progress, reaching more than 1 billion people through TVC and on-ground programs and behaviour change initiatives, backed by strong partnerships.
“Lifebuoy has a single mission: ensure people fall ill less often by washing hands. This is what we say in all our brand activities and communications. Given the global pandemic, we have stepped up our commitment to this mission to save lives by working with various public and private partners. Our tie up with Shakti Foundation is one such step towards achieving our goal and reaching the most vulnerable”, said Srirup Mitra, Vice President, Skin Cleansing, Hindustan Unilever.
In collaboration with the Shakti Foundation, the world records attempted were – ‘Most women participants in a hand washing relay’ & ‘Largest donation of personal hygiene products’. While the first record happened by registering over 5 lakh women from across 50,000 Anganwadis, the latter was through Lifebuoy, Shakti Foundation’s hand hygiene partner, who donated more than 5 lakh handwashing soaps for the campaign.
A total of 5,30,290 women – including girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers – registered at 53,029 Anganwadis of 33 districts and 252 talukas of Gujarat, participated in breaking the world record. They attempted to do so by washing hands with soap for 20 seconds, following a 7-step guideline outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Through this program, the foundation also distributed hygiene kits with hand washes, sanitary pads and cotton masks to the participants.
Speaking to The Better India, Sonal Rochani, the founder of Shakti Foundation, says, “An Anganwadi worker is the core changemaker in a rural set-up. Through them, we aimed at creating an army of changemakers. There is usually one such Anganwadi worker per village. We asked them to at least get ten women from their villages to join in this event.”
Sonal started the foundation in August 2011 to educate and empower women and children and facilitate community-driven rural development in Gujarat. From health and hygiene to education and skill development, she has closely worked with private and government organisations and rural communities to promote grassroots level positive impact.
Similarly, the objective of this ‘Record’ was not only to teach rural women proper hand hygiene but also to show how it could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and create a ripple of change.
“A single woman can bring change in an entire household. This can slowly translate into a larger impact in the community. So officially, while around 5 lakh women were participating, imagine when they teach and follow the same practice in their households, we will be able to reach almost double the number of people. This is the real impact” Sonal adds.
Through this initiative, she hopes the impact will soon expand to thousands of households, touching more than 50 lakh lives.
“We have been champions of hygiene for over 100 years and will continue teaching as many people as possible the simple, cost effective act of handwashing with soap. Let us help keep everyone safe and practice proper handwashing every day!”, said Srirup Mitra, Vice President, Skin Cleansing, Hindustan Unilever.