Project RISHI (Rural India Social & Health Improvement) » [UC Davis] Aggies Bring Creativity to Villages in Tamil Nadu

The UC Davis chapter worked to analyze and improve hygienic practices in Tamil Nadu

The UC Davis chapter took on a unique venture this year, dedicating our efforts to scouting villages in India. Through extensive research and correspondence, we came across the village of Kameshwaram, located in the state of Tamil Nadu. A handful of our members visited Kameshwaram for two weeks in September, focusing on initiatives related to sanitation surveys and education.

Located in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, the village of Kameshwaram suffered devastating infrastructure collapse as a result of a 2004 tsunami. We collaborated with Friend-in-Need (FIN), an NGO that has had a presence in the village since 2005. The head of the NGO, Dr. Shyama Ramani, informed us of the presence of waterborne pathogens in communal water. Throughout the course of the school year, our team frequently communicated with FIN to create a sustainable project, targeting the issue of improper hygienic practices — namely, educating students about reducing the risk of waterborne diseases.

Students from UC Davis scouted villages in the state of Tamil Nadu this past summer

Once in India, our team’s main focus was to facilitate conversation surrounding hygienic practices in the village. The first step was to construct a scientific explanation behind common hygienic behavior. This was addressed through an interactive presentation, outlining the major waterborne illnesses and providing preventative measures.

The second component focused on evaluating the effectiveness of the current sanitation education curriculum at the local schools. Our team achieved this by orally administering hygiene behavior surveys, which ultimately suggested that behavioral change will require constant reinforcement coupled with improved sanitation infrastructure.

While presentations and surveys made their mark, a simpler and exciting approach often proves to be the most effective. In a rather typical approach to teach students more about water borne diseases and proper hygienic practices, a few of our team members designed a glitter activity. By having a few students start with glitter on their hands and shaking hands with other students, the activity was meant to demonstrate how easily germs and disease can spread. There was varying amounts of glitter on each student’s hand by the end of the game, emphasizing how easily diseases spread from person to person.

Sahana Rajan (left) and Aditi Shastry (right) with students in Kameshwaram

Upon assessing our efforts in the village, we discovered that students responded to the presentations and activities in a positive manner, and displayed interest in learning more about diseases. The presentations and activities were also well received by the staff at FIN and the local school.

The Davis chapter didn’t stop in Kameshwaram — our team spent a few days visiting READ, another NGO in the village of Andimadam in Tamil Nadu. Again, our area of interest was sanitation, the target being women’s focus groups. After gaining a clear understanding of these groups, our team facilitated discussion on sanitation, and presented in the local schools.

The UC Davis chapter visited READ, an NGO in the village of Andimadam

The UC Davis chapter found great success in this new endeavour. We look forward to continuing our efforts in both Kameshwaram and Andimadam, and can’t wait to visit once again next summer.

Author(s) of article: Meera Verma

Originally published at

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