Empowering children to be changemakers of tomorrow can go a long way to solving many of India’s pressing problems. Richa Shukla writes about how a campaign in parts of Kolkata helped teach kids about hygiene and cleanliness, and inspired them to influence their communities.
Five-year-old Jayanti teaches her mother to make soapy threads which she can tie on her wrist when she goes to the toilet. Eight-year-old Dipesh can tell his class everything about ‘dast’ (diarrhoea) and what to do if anyone gets it. He says that if oral rehydration salts (ORS) don’t give you relief, you need to go see a doctor.
These are a few of the scores of positive changes that happen when technology, coupled with engaging and age-appropriate content, empowers children to become agents of change for themselves and their communities. Marrying technology and healthcare activities at the grassroots can give a much-needed boost to create awareness around preventive healthcare, especially in the semi-urban and rural parts of India.
According to the 2011 census report, around 53.1 % households in India do not have access to toilets, while 49.8 % practice open defecation. Diarrhoea, the second leading cause of death among children under five globally, is the leading cause of early childhood mortality in India, with 2,00,000 diarrhoea deaths reported every year.
In the wake of these staggering statistics, using a variety of engaging media can bring in maximum impact through positive shifts in the behaviour of children, who can then be the ushers of change.
If you can engage children, you can educate them. Sesame Workshop firmly believes in this philosophy, and has a worldwide legacy of understanding what works best for children. Sesame Workshop India (SWI) recently concluded campaigns focussing on health and hygiene habits of children in Kolkata and Shivpuri, and their stories of change narrate the impact that technology, coupled with engaging content, can have on young minds. Technology need not always be high-end and sci-fi. Sometimes all it takes to catch hold of a child’s attention is a radio and a basic mobile phone.
Through the ‘Raho Swachh, Jiyo Mast’ programme in Kolkata, SWI adopted varied intervention techniques to empower children to become the change-makers in their communities with regard to hygiene. The idea was to address three fundamental areas—wearing slippers to the toilet, use water to clean the toilet, and wash hands with soap after going to the toilet.
The messages were made engaging in various ways, like creating simple stories that children would relate to, with fun fictional characters such as Sabun Sipahi (Soap Soldier), Commander Keetanu (Commander Germ), Chappal Chacha and Chachi (Slipper Uncle and Aunt), Mugga Mama (Mug Uncle), and Paani Rani (Water Queen).
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Activities and games involving these characters helped children understand and retain the three critical toilet-use messages.
Additionally, digital games like ‘Karo Keetano Gayab’ (Make Germs Disappear), ‘Sabun Kare Saaf’ (The Soap Cleans), ‘Chappal Ki Sair’ (The Journey of a Slipper), and ‘Paani ka Chamatkar’ (The Miracle of Water) were also introduced to further reinforce the messages. Children were excited to play these games, featuring their favourite characters Elmo and Raya. Hadiya Ahmad, a 6-year-old girl, was inspired to request her parents to buy her a pair of slippers because, she says, “Elmo and Raya told me that germs are present everywhere, and slippers would help me keep away from germs and stay healthy.”
In Shivpuri (Madhya Pradesh), with a high incidence of diarrhoea, SWI reached out to children and caregivers. It used fun-packed radio episodes about understanding diarrhoea and its prevention and management. However, there were still many communities without a radio at home, but with access to a basic mobile phone.
So we introduced a toll-free phone number which people could dial-in to to listen to the radio episodes.
Lakshmi Garg, a programme facilitator, shared that the kids loved the Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS). They could easily access these radio episodes on their parents’ phones at a time most convenient to them. It was motivating to see how kids started taking charge of their health. Six-year-old Sonali even memorised the IVRS phone number to avoid referring to a sticker every time to call. Kids could now recognise diarrhoea and its symptoms and recollect Chamki’s advice to take ORS in case of diarrhoea. Families started using soap regularly, something they earlier considered a beautification commodity to use only on special occasions.
These are some examples of how media and technology can effect change and inspire millions. They are also inspiring reminders of how empowering children can help them move towards a healthy future. Kids empowered with knowledge and language can be instrumental in building communities of change.
(The author is a Content Expert at Sesame Workshop India. She has 14 years of experience in the early childhood education space, teaching and developing curriculum.)
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