Village-level announcements by folk artists to mobilise audiences prior to the show
By Thrity Cawasji
RAIPUR, Chhattisgarh, 16 October 2009 – “Your majesty, 50 villages I have roamed, yet not one can I find where I can stage a show ! With sick children everywhere, there is no one to watch my performance. With money being spent on medicine, they have no money to buy tickets, they say” laments Munari, the street performer.
“Yes” says the king of Grud. “The situation is worrying. Summon all the herbal doctors and ask them to make a brew that will ward off diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach ache, respiratory infection, and all illnesses.”
“My Lord” the newly wed queen intervenes “before you ask these quacks to concoct a brew, please send your messenger to my father’s kingdom. The people there live healthy lives and are more prosperous too.”
“Hummm” roars his Lordship. “Dispatch the messenger forthwith. Find out why people there are better off than people here.”
Two days later, the messenger is back. “Your majesty, passing by the village school, I saw the teacher supervising the children washing their hands. They were using this jaadu ki tikiya (magic cube).” Pulling a little block out of his pocket, he adds “The teacher told me that washing hands with this cube keeps hands clean and prevents sickness and infection.”
“A magic cube! Show it to me. Ha… ha… but this is only SOAP” laughs the king. “My lord”, says the queen gently, “that is absolutely true. In school, our teacher ensured that we washed our hands before lunch. If hands are not washed with soap, they carry bacteria which can cause serious illness, she told us”. The king smiled. “Thank you my sweet lady. From tomorrow there will be soap in every village shop and all my subjects will wash their hands with soap.”
Six months later, the people of Grud are a happy lot. Money saved on medicine is being spent to buy clothes, a radio, a bicycle, and much more. The king is happy too – a small intervention has made a big difference… and he loves his queen even more for her wisdom.
Exaggerated, dramatised – yes. This is but a tale! But this is the story that ten groups of folk artists are playing out through performances in 400 media-dark villages in the interiors of Chhattisgarh, over a three week period. Wash your hands with soap, especially before meals and after defecation - it can save lives.
Prior to the performance, the beating of drums summons audiences to the village square. As the show begins and the story unfolds, children, women and men, watch in animated suspense as the ‘king’ demystifies the magic cube. The handwashing technique is demonstrated during each performance, which ends with the audience joining in to take a pledge to wash their hands regularly.
Celebrations of Global Handwashing Day
To mark the Global Handwashing Day, UNICEF, in partnership with the Communication and Capacity Development Unit (CCDU) of the Government of Chhattisgarh, has launched a state-wide campaign to generate greater awareness about the need for handwashing with soap. Colourful posters, television spots, and radio jingles reinforce the message.
In addition, the 900-strong cadre of child reporters spread across the State, have dedicated a special edition of their fortnightly newspaper, the Bal Swaraj, to focus on handwashing. Besides articles on handwashing, the newspaper will also carry winning entries of essays, poetry and drawing competitions held in schools, on the subject. The newspaper reaches out to approximately 20,000 government schools across the state, as well as to policy makers and key influencers.
With diarrhoea and respiratory infection being major causes of infant deaths, the importance of handwashing cannot be undermined. It is estimated that this simple practice can reduce infant diarrhoeal deaths by about 40 per cent.
The commitment and enthusiasm of the government is visible and contagious. Soap is the magic cube for the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED).
An issue which until recently was barely talked about, has become the buzz word in government corridors. Soap is what every mother, father and child is being asked to use. Handwashing with soap is what every school is being asked to ensure. Soap, is what will bring down diarrhoeal deaths.
Indeed, soap is the magic cube.