Now, wash your hands...

Will you change?

If you are used to sleeping on a particular side of your mattress,

I ask you to change sides forever,

Will you change?

If you are a coffee person in the morning,

I ask you to change to milk forever,

Will you change?

If you are a person that like greys for the colour of clothes,

I ask you to change to reds, yellows and blues forever,

Will you change?

If you are a spicy food person,

I ask you to eat bland forever,

Will you change?

Thursday 15th October 2015 is Global Handwashing Day.  It's a simple yet critical stage of the water, sanitation and hygiene cycle. WIthout handwashing, the risk of waterborne disease remains even when there is safe water and sanitation. But how do you get people to wash their hands when they've never done it before?  

We at FRANK Water, commissioned a study on a Behaviour Change programme implemented by one of our partners, Samerth. The report, Deekha-Seekhi, brought out some very significant points with respect to change in people’s behaviour with respect to their water, sanitation and hygiene habits.  If your answer to even one of the “Will you change” questions above was NO, then you know why it is difficult. 

Giving access to drinking water, sanitation facilities have their bit of difficulty to it. But to have them be used properly is the most difficult part. And this part decides the impact of such facilities on people’s lives. This study is an effort on FRANK's part to understand and better a programme, which works on the trickiest bit of any WASH programme.

Here is the story behind the name of the report:

There were two phrases that were being used by several respondents in their conversations during the interview. These are – “dekha-seekhi” (dekha – to see; seekhi – to learn) and “aaj-kal” (aaj-today; kal – can mean “yesterday” or “tomorrow” depending on the use context. Together the phrase is synonymous to saying “these days” implying the present times.) The use of these phrases was common in responses and from knowledge of the language spoken in the region (Hindi, mostly) it is known that these phrases encapsulate a dense meaning in themselves when used in specific contexts.


This is a common Hindi phrase which means learning by “seeing”. Though simple in it’s meaning, it is a fairly strong vernacular expression, which packs within itself a key process through which information, practices and knowledge flows through a community. The respondents meant that their use and awareness about hygiene products like soap and detergent is influenced by seeing their friends or neighbours and then adopting the same.

This phrase is a part of common lexicon in the region. It implies that the process (of adopting new products or practices) happens as a matter of fact and tends to take its own time.


This phrase when used implies that the person is remarking about the “present times” or partly attributing what she intends to speak next (following the phrase) to the “phenomenon of present times”. For instance, a respondent was heard saying – “You (to the interviewer) know how in the present times everyone wants to use soaps with fragrance and not the local soaps.”[1] This quote in effect implies that the woman is attributing the use of fragrant soaps (of some well-known brands) to the present times in which women want to feel good, smell good after a wash or bath. The “present times” here is a force, which is shaping the behaviour of the family members. They might not use these soaps out of hygiene consciousness primarily, but for the other benefits of it like fragrance post use.

Some broad lessons from the report:

Use the social factors of coercion

We think every community will have some societal factors that can be used to coerce and change the behaviour of any community. In the case of the tribal communities of Chhattisgarh, the communities themselves mentioned in the passing of deekha-seekhi and aaj-kal. It will be useful to keep a look out for such factors, as it makes the tricky job of behaviour change a little bit easier. This has driven the emergence of new preferences in terms of hygiene products in the community.

Working on priority issues of community first helps

Any organisation will not be able to work on matters like that of BC which do not feature in the priority list of community, until they support the community with their own pressing issues, identified by the community. In most cases livelihood issues feature much above in priority compared to BC or even WASH. By helping the community on their priority matters, the organization also gathers trust that will only aid in the BC program.

It is difficult to have a universal programme design for Behaviour Change

Behaviour change deals with human beings and their psychology. For any physical behaviour to change it is required that there is a change in the psyche of the individual. For the behaviour change adaptation to occur the organization has to work on the objective conditions while waiting for the subjective conditions to become favourable. It is therefore observed from Samerth’s experience that it is difficult to definite program design and timelines.

Winning the trust of the community helps change

The substantial amount of change observed with respect to WASH behaviour has to be attributed to field staff that conducted frequent meetings with respect to the behaviour with the villagers.  Over a period time the field staff were perceived by community as trustable members. Thus making the advice around behaviour change credible. Therefore making the members willing to change. This also helps in the speedy process of change.

Repetition - makes things stick!

At least 4 meetings regarding BC were conducted in each village every month. This was composite of village meetings; group meetings and house hold visits. These high levels of engagement and repetitive emphasis on the subject made the whole idea of change stick in people’s mind. This brings home the point that; changes of this sort can’t be made with a sweep of a magic wand. The persistent effort and repetition of whatever was perceived as change by the field staff could have definitely added to the process of behaviour change.

Behaviour change needs to focus on men also

A critical gap found in our partner’s program was that the interactions and meetings conducted by the program staff are mostly directed towards women of the community. This reflected in the interview responses of men. As much as all the development programs make women the centre of its focus, when it come to individual behaviour change, men have to be made direct participants of a program like this.

For the full report, click here.  

demonstrating handwashing to children 

demonstrating handwashing to children 

[1] Quote based on loose translation from an interview with an elderly woman of a household with young women