The children have started not only internalising it, but are also trying to translate this knowledge and practice to their families and community at large.
When Gondappa’s son reached the age of five, he walked with his hands on the ground and feet in the air to the temple of the village Goddess in Thesgora, Madhya Pradesh. A host of villagers accompanied the man to celebrate the survival of the first child who reached the age of five, in a village known for the highest cases of diarrhoea in India.
According to a WHO report, India has the highest number of Under 5 mortality in the world with an estimated 1.2 million deaths in 2015 – 20 per cent of the 5.9 million global deaths.
“The most rampant causes for the rising Under 5 mortality rate in India include unsafe washing practices and open defecation,” says Paresh Kumar, founder of DevInsights, a Delhi-based Research, Monitoring and Evaluation private company.
In an innovative solution to drive behavioral change and attain social development, Paresh’s company came up with an model called Music 4 Development or M4D.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the Swachch Bharat Mission on October 2, 2014, the aim was to ensure a clean India by 2019. The mission saw numerous bureaucrats, politicians and celebrities promoting cleanliness activities.
A major course of action consisted of allocation of funds to build toilets around the nation. But mere construction of toilets isn’t enough, thinks Paresh. “Construction may be the first step, but the key is ensuring the usage of those toilets. Many a times, it doesn’t come naturally for most people who’ve never lived with that kind of infrastructure,” he says.
The challenge then is to drive behavioral change by encouraging people to not litter streets, build and use latrines in their houses and educate their children and neighbours about the significance of hand-washing.
Music 4 Development believes in achieving this by engaging communities through music.
Talking about the conceptualisation of the behavior change model, Paresh says, “In 2015, we were writing a book on water sanitation and hygiene wash, where they was a chapter on communications. We conducted robust and in-depth research into the existing communication models being used in the country. And we realised that most of them were cliche methods of mass communication, where either a big celebrity was taken on board or only interpersonal communication was bestowed to frontline workers like the ones from Asha and Anganwadi. Eventually what happens is, behavior change does not take place.”
They started brainstorming different innovative models that would hit the right chords of their target group which included rural India and urban slum dwellers. An in-depth literature review on the impact of music led to the concept of Music 4 Development.
“Music has immense power. I am a music composer and writer myself. I started questioning myself about why I don’t utilise both skills to bring about an innovation? That’s how Music 4 Development came about. It is a unique combination of science and art. A marriage of behavioral science and the art of music to produce social change and development.”
The uniqueness of the concept of M4D is – it believes in making children the agents of change. “Changing the behavior of an adult is way difficult as compared to a child. Giving you a simple analogy – all of us know smoking is injurious to health; it’s even written on the packet. But we still continue smoking. This happens when the communication model is ineffective and does not hit the audience,” says Paresh.
Paresh believes that children, as against adults, have an innate power – the ‘pestering’ power, he calls it. If the child continues to pester, he/she can bring about the desired change in behavior.
“The intervention happens at the school level where children are targeted and where they themselves act as agents of change. When you catch them young, you can be sure that they’ll understand and absorb the message better and retain this behaviour for a longer time as compared to adults,” says Paresh.
Just how Mozart’s music was used in the past to direct appropriate behaviour among young offenders and punk rock used as a strong tool for communicating, rebelling and empowering women, M4D aims to effect sustainable change in behavior.
Every song is constructed based on thorough research where a team of dedicated researchers visits the target area to understand the current knowledge, attitude, behavior and practices. These include their likes, dislikes, lifestyles, interests, preferences, etc.
“Children have strong likes and dislikes, and they are extremely honest about it in our focus group discussions. The effort is to create music that the children of a particular region are familiar with. So, the songs don’t seem foreign and easily position themselves in the mind of the child,” says Paresh.
These songs are then sung by children accompanied by a few adults. The idea is not heavy duty messaging. The lyrics strictly promote and emphasise key WASH behaviours. They are routinely played in the school. The top priority is recalling it and ensuring it is enjoyable. And yet making sure it doesn’t overshadow the lesson. The lyrics are playful, informative and easy to grasp for any young child.