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”For the first time in my life I understand the importance of hygiene”

The lack of toilets in Dhaka is an everyday challenge for those living and working there. Without proper toilets, the streets and alleyways as used as a toilet. It's not safe and it's easy to catch diseases. Some simply avoid leaving their homes. That’s why WaterAid is working to improve the public sanitation by renovating and building new public toilets, with funding from the H&M Foundation.
Habiba Akhter, University student who works as a volunteer at Osmani Uddan public toilets in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She is helping to raise awareness on the importance of personal hygiene and to support the users of the new public toilets in how to use the different amenities. Photo credit: GMB Akash/WaterAid
Abul Hossain, 48, a public toilet user, drinks water at Osmani Uddan public toilets in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo credit: GMB Akash/WaterAid
Shohel Arman Shuvo, 21, a volunteer, shows public toilet user Abul Hossain, 48, how to wash hands properly after using the toilet, at Osmani Uddan public toilets in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo credit: GMB Akash/WaterAid

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, WaterAid is engaging volunteers to help raise awareness on the importance of personal hygiene. Many people have never seen amenities like this before, so the volunteers also have to teach how a toilet works, how to flush, and how to use the hand-dryer and soap dispenser.

“Everyone knows Dhaka is one of the world’s most polluted and populated cities. I have faced difficulties while growing up here as I never knew if I could find a toilet if I urgently needed one. My mother also suffered because she has diabetes, and because of this she preferred to stay at home. There are thousands of women like me and my mother who suffered silently,” says Habiba Akhter, a 22-year-old student at ULAB University in Dhaka. She is spending her day off as a volunteer at the new public toilet.

“I truly believe that when women can get the facilities of sanitation and hygiene it will help their employment too.”

Habiba Akhter

“I think of all these women who have no access to proper sanitation and hygiene facilities, or security. I know the fear of using a public toilet. That is the reason I like to stand in front of a public toilet as a volunteer,” she continues.

Habiba believes that the public toilets will have an impact on the society at large: “I truly believe when women can get the facilities of sanitation and hygiene it will help their employment too. More women will be street vendors and will come forward to open shops. The economy will change. I want to continue this mission and want more public toilets to be built in all vulnerable points of Dhaka city. No one likes to talk about toilets but this is the most important thing in civilized life.”

“Everyone talks about the toilet”

Abul Hossain is a 48-year old shopkeeper who works and lives in the area. Life has always been difficult because of the scarcity of water and the lack of sanitation facilities he says. “The environment of my working area was extremely polluted. Thousands of people used to urinate in the streets or in a nearby drain. When I discovered that this new toilet had been built I was astonished. Everyone here talks about the toilet,” he says.

However, the first times were a bit confusing, “The first time I used the toilet I didn’t understand many things. We are very poor people. We do not have such hygienic toilets in our homes. I used to quickly go to the toilet and rush back to my shop, I didn’t bother about maintaining hygiene.”

One day when Abul came to the toilet, there were some volunteers there who started talking to him: “I was impressed because I’m a very low income person and I had never received such respect and care while someone explained about hygiene. For the first time in my life I understood hygiene is very important. I’ve never washed my hands because I had no idea how to press the button of the liquid soap container. A young boy taught me how to wash my hands properly and showed me the machine I never used before.”

As people visit the facilities and talk to the volunteers, the good practices spread; “I’ve now also taught my children these habits, and my wife has visited the toilet as I told her about the security of this place. We want a clean city – I don’t want to urinate in the drain while girls of my daughter’s age pass by. The surroundings of this place have changed, as well as our lives,” says Abul.

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