It takes a village (to stay healthy)

HygieneMyanmar

Hla and her family were often suffering with sickness and struggling to afford healthcare. But Hla’s life – and her whole village – changed when she learned how to protect her family from disease.

Hla* lives with her husband and three children in a small village in rural Myanmar. A few years ago the whole family was frequently getting ill. Hla was constantly worried about her children, and the hospital bills were piling up.

‘There was usually one family member sick every month,’ remembers Hla. ‘Most of the family expenditure was for health. My husband was hospitalised because of malaria, my eldest son was hospitalised for diarrhea, and the other two children had skin diseases.

‘In order to pay for treatment, my belongings slowly disappeared by being sold off to make enough money to cover costs.’

And it wasn’t just Hla and her family who were suffering. Most households in the village had similar health problems and some people were dying at an early age.

Learning how to stay safe
One of the main reasons the villagers were often getting ill was because they didn’t have access to clean water and there were no systems in place for waste disposal or keeping communal areas – including their shared outdoor toilets – clean. This meant they drank dirty and unboiled water, lived among piles of rubbish and waste, and their open toilet system was unsanitary and without hand-washing facilities.

Then, Tearfund’s local partner visited the village to provide hygiene training and invited people from across the community to take part. The villagers learned about the importance of practices such as hand-washing and sterilising drinking water, proper waste management, and how to use nets to prevent malaria-spreading mosquitoes biting them during the night.

Working together to get healthy
After the training, community members felt motivated to change their behaviours to keep themselves and the village safe and healthy. Those who attended the training drew up a plan of action, and started teaching others what they had learned.

‘It benefitted all of us,’ says Hla. ‘I started practicing the health behaviours, and then my family adopted them.’

Villagers pooled their money to purchase rubbish bins, and then set them up around the community. A team of volunteers committed to regularly emptying the bins and disposing of the waste.

Tearfund’s partner helped the village build sanitary toilets. Now, every household has access to one and everyone knows the importance of hand-washing after using them.

The villagers worked hard to make their community a healthy and safe place for all. And, as a result of their efforts, they started to see a significant decrease in cases of diarrhoea and sickness.

An empowered community
Life now looks very different for Hla. Her family are healthy and strong, which makes life so much easier and enjoyable. And with fewer healthcare expenses, the family are able to save money and now have their own house.

Hla’s community continues to follow and pass on the hygiene behaviours they learned. They are now empowered to protect themselves and future generations from preventable disease.

‘It was not a sudden change; it took nearly seven years to change, but it was worth it for us,’ says Hla.

PLEASE PRAY

  • Thank God that Hla and her community were able to work together to protect themselves from disease.
  • Pray that our local partners will be able to train and help many more communities, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when good hygiene practices are more important than ever.
  • Lift up all those who are vulnerable to sickness due to unsanitary living conditions and who lack access to clean water. Pray for protection over their health and provision for their needs.

*Name changed to protect identity.

This article references events that took place before the coronavirus crisis.

Agnes McGrane