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Kids taking an oath of cleaniness at the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, Gwalior : Photo © Himanshu Khagta

Celebrities, sports stars and fairground fun make for a new and unusual public health campaign in India

An unlikely carnival has travelled over 1,000 miles across India, including children’s games, workshops, cricket, Bollywood and… poo.

The carnival, known in India as The Nirmal Bharat Yatra, was organised by Indian development company Quicksand and WASH United, an organisation where sports stars stand with politicians, school children and citizens from around the world to fight for universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

The travelling carnival, which reached 100,000 people across India during October and November 2012, aimed to spread simple messages that will save lives: the importance of hand-washing at proper times throughout the day, using a toilet and menstrual hygiene management.

However, the means of relaying these messages were particularly unique. It was not a dour, scaremongering campaign delivering uncomfortable truths, but instead a brightly-coloured touring fair involving Bollywood-style performances, games of cricket, celebrities and lots of open, friendly discussion.

“Participants playing Poo in the Loo are asked to shoot a poo-like football into toilet-shaped holes”

For example, participants playing one of the many fairground games on offer, Poo in the Loo, are asked to shoot a poo-like football into toilet-shaped holes. Poo Carrom, meanwhile, is based on a popular Indian game and sees the striker attempt to hit germs off hands. Alongside the frivolity were informative workshops, such as a menstrual hygiene management workshop, and training sessions on building hand-washing stations.

India is number one in the world for child mortality resulting from diarrhoea. Two of the main causes of this are poor hand-washing hygiene and open defecation; every day enough Indians defecate on railway tracks, roadside ditches and other open community spaces to create a pile of excrement that would fill a cricket stadium to the roof.

The carnival was backed by Bollywood superstar Vidya Balan, who appeared in television adverts supporting the event, as well as Jairam Ramesh, the Indian Minister for Sanitation and Rural Development, and received over £1m in funding from a range of sources including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is hoped that the carnival will break India’s reluctance to address the economic, political, social and environmental issues related to sanitation and menstruation. Hundreds of news articles have been written in Indian newspapers about the travelling party.

A spokeswoman for WASH United said: “Nothing like this has been done before. We are the first travelling carnival and we are hoping to replicate this model in other parts of the world starting in early 2013.”

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Author: Caroline Jaine

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