Women from the village of Woulmassoutou in Burkina Faso were worried about the frequent outbreaks of diarrheal diseases, stomach pains and malarial fevers. Within their “mother-to-mother” support groups, they had learned that washing your hands with soap at critical moments is crucial to prevent certain diseases, but only an extensive mobilization and commitment would be able to shift attitudes in the entire village.
Handwashing is a personal act, but when a majority of a population has good hygiene habits it impacts the entire community. But to support the habit of handwashing, it takes more than learning about the health benefits—access to soap and water are also critical.
The women in the mother-to-mother group decided to partner with the men active in the village’s husbands’ school to advocate for change. Together they requested support from the community health and nutrition Quality Improvement (QI) Team, because it seemed the most appropriate group to tackle this overall problem.
The Quality Improvement teams are groups of community leaders with representatives from diverse organizations and groups within the community. They meet together to review health and nutrition data from the local health centers and identify areas for improvement, set indicators, develop action plans and take these plans to their organizations to begin implementing. These teams identify the priorities for the community and are key to how the USAID REGIS-ER project, implemented by NCBA CLUSA in Niger and Burkina Faso, is supporting community-led development.
The QI team responded in three ways. First, team members organized community meetings in places of worship (during weddings and baptism ceremonies) to expose the problem to a wide range of people across generations. These meetings served to gain broad community support for a unified action plan to improve hygiene and save lives.
Dicko Aissatou Hama, a member of the mother-to-mother group, explained. “Thanks to these discussions, I have been convinced that we need to do as much as possible to ensure that all family members wash their hands at the five critical moments. I see handwashing as a kind of vaccine, protecting us from disease. Our greatest challenge is just not knowing. Now that we are aware, we don’t have a choice. We have to act.”
After these meetings, there was a community effort to make soap more accessible. Soap was already available in the village, but households couldn’t afford to purchase it. Some women in the village had been trained by UNICEF on homemade production of liquid soap, and they saw an opportunity to transfer their knowledge. Together, several women from the mother-to-mother groups raised approximately $20 USD and drove more than 70 km roundtrip to reach Dori, the regional capital, to buy the necessary items to make the soap.
These women now sell homemade soap for 100 FCFA (approximately 20 cents) for a half-liter bottle. They set up a small savings fund with the profits in order to sustain the activity. At the same time, villagers met to build Tippy Taps, simple handwashing stations made with locally available and affordable materials, for each household.
This initiative sparked a true change in behavior and led to effective handwashing with soap throughout Woulmassoutou. Earlier this year, the regional health directorate in Dori presented the village QI team with a certificate of merit for this accomplishment. At the ceremony, Louis Armand Zagre, the head nurse at the Center for Health and Social Promotion of Sampelga (Woulmassoutou’s region) said all of the village’s health and nutrition indicators had been achieved. “Woulmatoussou is one of the best performing villages in my catchment area.”
Amadou Hamidou, President of the Village Development Council, a local governance group, said the news spread quickly. “When we came back, we were greeted by a welcoming committee, cheering and congratulating us! This has really motivated us to continue making progress and improvements in hygiene and sanitation and to strengthen the social cohesion in our village,” he said.
Their success has already spread to two neighboring villages, Niagassi and Damdegou, that are now working to make handwashing a reality for all.