May, 2024

Embedding healthier practises across Bhamun

Simanti demonstrating how to properly wash hands to her family.

Simanti, 18yo, resides in the Bhamun Tea estate.
Simanti demonstrating how to properly wash hands to her family. Simanti, 18yo, resides in the Bhamun Tea estate.
Simanti demonstrating how to properly wash hands to her family. Simanti, 18yo, resides in the Bhamun Tea estate.

ETP and UNICEF have been working together since 2014 to support people living in tea estates in Assam, India through the Improving Lives Programme.

The programme addresses daily challenges faced by children, women, and families working in tea. It aims to deliver systemic change that will help tackle the root causes of some of the most complex issues in Assam, including access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities.

Case story video: Adolescent Girls Group & WASH

Living in Bhamun

Assam, 25 May 2024: The Bhamun tea plantations, like many others in India, faced challenges in maintaining cleanliness due to densely populated tea lines. The lack of proper garbage disposal systems and insufficient awareness about WASH led to various diseases.

Members of the Bhamun community have decided to take action to improve the living conditions in tea estates. With the support of the Assam Branch Indian Tea Association (ABITA), the Improving Lives Programme has been training communities in 205 tea estates about WASH, so they can develop effective ways to deal with these health issues.

Simanti

Simanti Karmakar, 19, lives in the Itakhooli line of the Bhamun Tea estate. She is a 12th year student and is the youngest of her family. As a community mobiliser in the Adolescent Girls Group (AGG), Simanti is raising awareness in her estate about the importance of maintaining a clean environment and practising healthy living. Meeting weekly with the other girls, she explains that the group is taught about waste disposal and is debunking many myths about menstrual cycles.

We are taught freely in the club, and we talk about things that our parents cannot teach us.

Simanti Karmakar

The Mother Group and the Child Protection Committee (CPC)

Mother Groups were created to empower communities living in estates. In Bhamun, the group has been trained in sanitation, hand washing, and nutrition themes. They share this knowledge with the AGG and the rest of the community.

Members of the Mother Group are also trained as (CPC) members. They are responsible for the safeguarding of the children in Bhamun.

“Life in the plantations became increasingly difficult. Defecating in the open was quite common in the labour lines and people were getting sicker because of that and the waste all around.” explained Namida Rabi Das, a member of the Mothers Group and of the CPC.

A WASH analysis conducted in eight tea gardens of Assam revealed that about 54% of the population in those tea gardens used to resort to open defecation. However, the programme has helped change the situation.

Anima Sawashi, another Mothers Group member, explained:

“The training helped us reduce diseases and get people more aware of the benefits of sanitising and using proper toilets.”

New kindergarten schools have also been established and now provide WASH equipment, facilitating community members to teach children healthier practices from an early age.

Impact of the AGG on the communities

The AGG has been supporting people living in tea plantations with information on the usage of proper toilets, dustbins and the disposal of menstrual waste, leading to immediate results.

Shakuntala Chetia, Bhamun’s tea garden coordinator, supervises the AGG sessions and explains that “the girls discuss their learnings with their parents and neighbours, but also go into labour lines and conduct awareness programmes, urging everyone to attend sessions.”

The hospital authority of Bhamun has also seen a positive change.

“I have noticed changes in the past 2–3 years, diseases like diarrhoea and jaundice were very common in the tea gardens. But now, we have observed a drastic reduction of cases, and we can see the change and how the families have been adopting healthier practices” said Anima Chongashi, health assistant and CPC member.

Next steps

In 2023, the programme reached more than 125,000 households in 205 tea estates, representing the construction of 118,095 toilets. It also provided 195 schools with waste segregation facilities while successfully raising awareness and training 175 sanitation workers in 78 tea estates.

The programme continues to reach more people in the tea estate communities. With these skills, community members can identify vulnerable cases among children and families and offer them support. Moving forward, they would like to provide information on a wider range of issues affecting the rights and wellbeing of communities.

Namida said:

“I would really like to learn more about sanitary pads, but also on sexual exploitation, so we can protect ourselves and others”

The AGG said they learnt a lot during the training and feel more confident when talking to people in the community.

Simanti plans to build upon her knowledge, explaining that:

“I want to become a nurse, and I believe what I learnt will be crucial for my work.”

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