Program Updates

Perseverance in Promoting Hygiene in La Cantera

Posted May 15, 2015

Original story by: Daniela Vázquez, Hygiene and Sanitation Promoter;
Editing and translation to English: Daniel W. Smith, Interim Program Manager

Promoting hygiene turned out to be a huge challenge in the community of Santa Maria Zocuilac La Cantera, Puebla (La Cantera, for short). On the first day of Community Care Group training turnout was low: zero volunteers showed up! Changing tack, Living Water’s hygiene promoters organized community assemblies to talk about handwashing and basic sanitation. A few people attended, but turnout was still minimal. It was a tough experience since hygiene and sanitation conditions in La Cantera were so visibly poor: finding human excreta within the primary school grounds was common.

Living Water finally found an effective way to work through La Cantera’s primary school with its WASH in Schools initiative. Working in the school, however, took a special degree of perseverance. At first, the school principal was skeptical of the intervention and the parents association seemed apathetic. Eventually, Living Water and a group of 16 parents formed a committee to promote WASH in the school. Living Water and the committee installed tippy-taps with the students as their first concrete hygiene promotion activity, but the tippy-taps didn’t catch on and were eventually destroyed by the students.

Not to be deterred, Living Water’s hygiene promoters and the school principal proposed building new, permanent handwashing stations or rehabilitating abandoned ones that the school already had. The parents association and the school administration decided to rehabilitate the abandoned handwashing stations. In the end, the school invested its own funds to fix four handwashing stations in the bathrooms and the parent’s association agreed to buy soap exclusively for handwashing. Having overcome the initial barriers to working in the school, Living Water’s promotion of WASH with the principal and parent’s committee eventually resulted in:
• The school reopening an abandoned school cafeteria where the students can now eat in a hygienic and dignified place. Before, students had to sit on the ground to eat.
• The students starting a tree-planting project on the school grounds that the teachers will oversee.
• The parent’s association performing maintenance on the school’s water cisterns and planning to keep them in good working order.
• Fixing the school kitchen’s dishwashing station, that student’s also use to wash their hands.

All of the activities that resulted from Living Water’s promotion were paid for by the school or the parent’s association.

The lead hygiene promoter for La Cantera, Daniela Vázquez, while recognizing her hard-won achievements in the school, also reflected that she knows that there is much more that could be done in the same community. Citing issues from those as mundane as working around local residents’ work schedules to more complex cultural ones such as machismo, Daniela finds that there are multiple barriers to inducing positive changes in hygiene behavior.

This story of hygiene promotion in La Cantera and its primary school shows just how challenging it can be to implement even well-designed hygiene programs in the field. The positive results in the school were achieved only through multiple frustrated efforts, overcoming distrust with local stakeholders, and Living Water’s hygiene promoters’ willingness to try new strategies when the original plan didn’t work. Even though there is always more to do, as Daniela points out, it is important to reflect on just how much care and effort can be needed to achieve small successes.

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