Seeing Is Believing: Villagers Solve Community Health Problems in Mali and Bangladesh

In a village outside the city of Mopti, women walk in slow procession, giant gourds balanced on their heads. Amid the round mud huts with pointed thatch roofs, typical of rural Mali, chickens scurry and cluck. The women move amid the dark green of the rainy-season undergrowth on their way to the well.

The well is the meeting-place of the village, the point of convergence for all who share the need for its water. But if care is not taken, a community's water can become contaminated with cholera, dysentery, and other diseases.

Several years ago, one of C4C's partner groups, DNAFLA (Direction Nationale de l'Alphabetisation Fonctionnelle et de la Linguistique Appliquée) produced a videotape about water sanitation and hygiene for use in its national health literacy program. The video was created in response to a request from villagers in the Mopti area; they had asked the video team to make a program that featured local health experts speaking in their local language.

"We produced and showed a tape about water and sanitation in the villages around Mopti," said Mme. Kadiatou Diallo of DNAFLA. "The following year, a team of outside evaluators went to these villages... The villagers felt that what they had learned from the water tape had helped them avoid a cholera outbreak that had killed people in neighboring villages. The villagers said that our video activities had saved lives."

According to DNAFLA, villagers "believed" the videotape, and were readily persuaded to adopt new health behaviors, because the tape depicted their local reality.

A continent away, Bangladeshi villagers were similarly concerned with the dire effects of diseases related to poor sanitation. In particular, many young children were suffering from diarrhea, a common symptom of cholera.

A video team with Proshika, another C4C partner, made a tape that addressed their concerns. By filming fly-exposed food sold by street vendors and restaurants, the video showed how the insects help spread bacteria. Seeing is believing: community screenings of the videotape informed people about the causes and remedies of diarrhea. It also convinced owners of restaurants and sweet shops to better protect their food. The force of positive peer pressure and the fear of losing business motivated improvements throughout the community. As in Mali, the video team's responsiveness in depicting local conditions helped create positive change from within.