W7 Investigating hand washing behaviour

SanitationHygieneWater and sanitation

It can be hard to encourage people to wash their hands if they don’t see the need. If we know what people believe about washing hands, we can share more useful messages.

One way of doing this is to carry out a simple survey, for example, in a school, in a clinic waiting room, in the market or after a church service. Use separate groups for men, women and children. Copy the six drawings. They show someone weeding vegetables, someone defecating, someone plucking a chicken, a lady cleaning up a baby, greeting visitors and replacing a chain on a bicycle.

Collect six small pots and some large seeds (maize or beans are ideal). First check that people understand what the pictures mean. Place a picture in front of each container. Give each person three seeds. Ask them to choose the three most important times for washing hands. Place one seed in the tin that represents each of the three activities they have chosen. Try to make sure people can vote without others knowing which pictures they choose.

Count up the results each time and write them on a chart. Discuss the results both as a group and, if possible, with the people who took part in the survey.

  • Which are the times when people feel washing hands is most important? Why do you think people have voted for these? How much are people influenced by the need to appear clean in front of other people?
  • Are there big differences between the results from different groups of people and between men and women? What are the differences? Can we think of reasons for the differences?
  • How could these findings help share positive messages about hand washing?
  • Prepare a role-play about a schoolboy whose mother is angry that his hands are still dirty after mending his bike. His sister has just learnt about good hygiene at school that day and says that her mother’s hands are in fact much dirtier than her brother’s, because she has just cleaned up the baby but has not washed her hands.
  • Think of a simple poster about hand washing that uses some of these findings. For example, if people believe it is really important to be clean before greeting visitors, a poster could say ‘make sure the food for your guests is as clean as you are’.

An example of possible responses

Our group St Peter’s church Mwaniki school Health centre TOTAL
Weeding vegetables 3 6 2 7 18
Defecating 5 4 8 4 21
Plucking a chicken 4 3 5 3 12
Cleaning up baby 3 2 2 2 9
Before greeting visitors 2 8 5 7 22
Mending bicycle 4 7 9 8 28