Empowering children to take their health into their own hands

Aug 10, 2016


Richa Shukla
Content Expert, Sesame Workshop in India

Eight-year-old Dipesh can tell his class everything about ‘dast' (diarrhea) and what to do if anyone gets diarrhea. He says if oral rehydration salts (ORS) don't give you relief, you need to go see a doctor.


Like Dipesh, many other children in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh now confidently talk about the link between soap and germs, the importance of clean water, and other concrete ways to defeat diarrhea. Sesame Workshop in India's (SWI) initiative “Building Communities of Change” has been instrumental in bringing about this awareness in Shivpuri. We employed mobile technologies and the popular Galli Galli Sim Sim characters to empower children as agents of change.



During the needs assessment study we observed that while people in Shivpuri did recognise the habit of handwashing, they lacked knowledge about why washing hands with soap that kills germs is important. People perceived soap as a beautification tool and did not associate it with health and hygiene. Hence, the need was for a programme that would educate them about the critical health messages around hand washing, while helping them build healthy habits for a lifetime. We also observed that while Shivpuri was a media-dark region, still there was high mobile phone penetration. People were hooked on to their mobile phones and radios. So we combined these two technologies to reach out to disenfranchised populations.  


We merged radio, mobile technology and on-ground activation to improve knowledge, attitude and practices around diarrhea prevention and management among communities.  We developed 14 Galli Galli Sim Sim radio episodes about handwashing, the importance of soap, boiling and safe storage of drinking water, preparing ORS, and many such preventive and treatment steps for diarrhea. The radio shows were specially timed to broadcast over a 12-week period during the monsoon season when diarrhea is most prevalent. It wasn't just radio sets, communities could access the episodes even on their mobile phones by simply giving a missed call to a toll-free IVRS (Interactive Voice Response System) number. We adopted a dynamic process which continuously modified as per the feedback from the targeted community and determined messages which focussed on helping children understand what diarrhea is and giving them appropriate language to talk about it.


Lakshmi Garg, one of the facilitators for the program shared that the IVRS was a big hit among kids as they could easily access these radio episodes on their parents' phones. It was motivating to see how kids had started taking charge of their health. 6 years old Sonali had even memorized the IVRS phone number so that she didn't need to refer to the sticker every time to call. Kids could now recognise diarrhea and its symptoms and could recollect how Chamki advised them to take ORS in case of diarrhea.


All children deserve to live healthy and happy lives and realize their full potential. Yet diseases like diarrhea have been taking away many lives in the early years. Diarrhea kills 225,000 children every year in India[1]. This is a tragedy, more so because it is usually an entirely preventable disease. A wide body of research shows that knowledge about washing hands with water and soap and administering oral rehydration salts (ORS) as the first line of treatment can reduce diarrheal deaths by 93%.


The “Building Communities of Change” project reached 1.5 million people (200,000 children) through All India Radio (AIR) Shivpuri and eight community radio stations. By empowering children to be agents of change we were able to help communities take the first step towards preventing diarrhea and its related deaths.


To learn more, visit www.sesameworkshopindia.org