Sanitation activist Bishnu Dawadi (picture, right) of Jagatpur VDC in Chitawan District loves to sing. She’s been singing from a young age, and she was a popular singer at her school and college. After college, she joined NEWAH, where she’s been working at its Central and Western Region Office for the past 14 years. Her melodious and energetic sanitation song “jagau, jagau, jagau hey . . .”, which urges communities to stop the practice of open defecation, has made her famous in villages in the mid- and mid-western Nepal. Her song has been praised by civil society leaders, village decision-makers, and government representatives. We recently caught up with Bishnu in Kathmandu for this conversation:
How did you come up with this idea?
I work in rural and remote communities, where people are illiterate. They cannot read and write. Therefore, they cannot understand our sanitation-related documents, posters and other printed public awareness materials. Seeing this, I thought that we had to intervene differently when it came to spreading awareness for sanitation and against open defecation practices.
Songs are very much part of our culture, and everyone enjoys singing them and listening to them. Songs also leave lasting memories in people’s minds. I thought that I should write a sanitation song, and use it to spread awareness.
The opportunity came in May 2009, when I attended Master Training of Trainers Program on triggering tools of Total Sanitation that was run by Community Development Forum (CODEF). They had a song-writing competition among the participants. That competition made me realize my potential. I wrote the song, and realized that there was not any nationally famous song on sanitation. I was overwhelmed when the main facilitator of the training asked me to sing the song in the closing ceremony in front of hundreds of community members, who we visited during the training program. I was astonished to find that they all appreciated and liked my song.
Do you think songs can be used to raise awareness and to influence behaviours?
The song has been used by several community members to raise awareness in different parts of the country. It’s been popular in all the central districts in which NEWAH works, such as Chitwan, Sindhuli, Gorkha, and other places. ActionAid Nepal has used this song to promote awareness through children who enjoyed this song very much. Most of our trainings of WASH have not been complete without singing this song. I believe that music can be a strong medium to change people’s mind and their behaviors.
This song has also been appreciated by government stakeholders. Kamal Adhikary [Sociologist, Department of Water Supply and Sewerage (DWSS)] and Madan Kumar Malla [Coordinator, Chitwan Model Sanitation District] have told me that the song carries a powerful message. I feel that song with a strong message can also help change the mindset of policy makers to make sanitation issues a priority for development. Songs like this can generate a response from public officials.
How do you feel about the song?
I feel confident and feel proud to see that this song has helped me create a strong identity for myself in communities. Whenever I sing this song, everyone appreciates it and people start clapping and dancing to it. Some later tell me that the song changed their viewpoints about the importance of sanitation. I feel that people remember me through this song, and that makes happy.
How do you feel about the future of raising awareness through songs in sanitation advocacy work?
I always wanted to spread the message of sanitation awareness throughout the country. It is hard for me or NEWAH to reach all the corners of Nepal. NEWAH’s sanitation policy has included this song as its preamble. I dream of the day when this song is set to music, recorded, turned into a short video and distributed to all parts of Nepal a part of sanitation awareness work. This will inspire others to use their pen to create more sanitation songs that will ensure sanitation access to all Nepalis.
Written by Shikha Shrestha, Advocacy and Research Officer and Anita Pradhan, Documentation Manager at WaterAid in Nepal