One leader learns to mobilize others to create an informational network that can now be activated on any issue of community concern.
In the 1990s, the government in Moharjapur, Bangladesh partnered with nonprofits to test the water in local wells for arsenic. The solution was to paint the wells green (safe) or red (unsafe).
And yet, no steps were taken to educate the community about the health effects of arsenic poisoning or about the painting program, so few opted to test their wells or follow the warnings. Residents continued to get sick – 85 percent of households had arsenic-contaminated water.
“People were still drinking the water due to lack of awareness,” said Iftekhar Alam. “They were suffering gravely. Something had to be done.”
Iftekhar wanted to use the new skills he developed in Counterpart’s leadership development program to help. He received funding from the municipal government for an arsenic testing kit and recruited and trained volunteers to effectively share information about the arsenic threat. Volunteers hosted public meetings every two weeks, designed to spread information neighbor-to-neighbor.
“Others before have told us about arsenic poisoning but no one explained it,” said Moharjapur citizen Chompa Begum. “Awareness must spread via word-of-mouth in our small community. Now that I can explain the health effects to my neighbors, I’ve done so.”
Chompa reports that public awareness has increased so significantly that for the first time, members of the community go out of their way to collect clean water. People contact the volunteers when the paint on their wells begins to chip and they now teach their children to distinguish between red and green wells.
The community approach of a neighbor-to-neighbor awareness campaign has been so successful that it’s now self-sustaining, funded by a membership dues program of 10 taka per person. It’s a locally-owned solution that’s improved the lives of people in this Bangladesh village and one that is now embedded in the fabric of their community, transferable to any issue of community concern.
This story is a part of our #LeadMore series, a weekly story recognizing our local partners and community leaders.