Become a Swachhata Doot and make a difference to India’s sanitation crisis

A new programme teaches us how we can educate our domestic help about the importance of hygiene

Has your maid been missing work due to repeated bouts of food poisoning? Do you find your dhobi-walla often sniffing and coughing? Was your office watchman’s son recently diagnosed with diarrhoea? Well, all three cases could be linked to poor hygiene habits.

According to WHO, over 1.4 million cases of infections are caused worldwide due to lack of sanitation. Unhygienic practices also lead to diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and diarrhoea. It doesn’t stop there: this report reveals that a staggering 48.2 million children in India are stunted due to improper hygiene habits. The illness is associated with diminished learning capacity, diabetes, and hypertension.

So, where do the germs come from? Many people believe that water that looks, tastes, or smells clean is automatically fit for drinking. But, it is not so. The water may be contaminated, and drinking it can transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, and typhoid. A WHO factsheet reveals that diarrheal diseases caused by water kill over 5 lakh children worldwide every year. Therefore, if your watchman’s son keeps falling ill due to diarrhoea, it could be that he is consuming contaminated water.

Diseases can also spread from not washing hands with soap. Unclean toilets are another source of infection. In rural India, the problem is especially grave, with more than half of the population still defecating in the open.

Be the change

For many of us, a flush toilet or a bottle of filtered water is something that we can’t do without. But, what about people like our help at home and office, who may not be washing their hands with soap or using a clean toilet as they are unaware about the risks? It’s time for us to act.

Launched under the Swachh Aadat, Swachh Bharat programme by Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), the Swachhata Doot initiative is an important step towards addressing and tackling India’s sanitation crisis. As a part of this mission, the brand has partnered with Bangalore based NGO, Janaagraha – that specializes in citizen volunteering initiatives – and built a volunteering platform where citizens can read more and download the handbook.

Simply put, the Swachhata Doot programme urges everybody to be ‘messengers of change’ and also provides a Booklet to follow so that people like us can take the movement forward.

As highlighted in the programme, there are three simple habits that you need to educate your helpers about. The first is to thoroughly wash their hands with soap five times a day. No matter how busy they are, make sure to ask them to scrub their hands clean, especially before and after eating, and after using the toilet. According to the UNICEF, washing hands with soap at such critical times can reduce diarrhoea rates by more than 40%.

The second step to practicing good hygiene is to drink purified water. Urge your maid or cook to always boil water before drinking it, and to avoid consuming tap water, as it can have toxic chemicals in it.

The third step is to use clean toilets. Chances are that your domestic help uses a community toilet, which might be a source of infections. Therefore, encourage them to get it cleaned regularly using disinfectants. Ask them to also pull the flush after using the toilet, or to pour water into the bowl to keep it clean. Most importantly, discourage them from open defecation whenever possible.

Good habits

Research shows that it takes 21 days to change an old habit or to form a new one. Therefore, you need to ensure that your help doesn’t give up mid-way.

To begin with, participate in this activity called ‘Kala Bindu’, wherein you take a pen and put a mark on both the palms of the person after they have completed a ‘dirty’ chore like dusting or sweeping. The person is then required to wash their hands with soap and remove the pen marks before they move on to the next chore.

You could also download the Swachhata Doot Booklet that has a 21-day sheet to track progress. Stick it on your fridge or any other place where it’s easily visible.

Hopefully, these practices will ensure that your helpers don’t fall ill so easily, and that our communities grow healthier than ever. For more information on the Swachhata Doot programme, click here.