I’ve just spent a few days in the same villages where I did the research for my MSc in 2009. The main purpose has been to test some of the new research methods – such as interviews and focus group discussions – that I hope to use for my main PhD research (I’ll write more on this soon). But it has also been a chance to observe some of the visible changes that have occurred in the last couple of years. The first is new mobile phone masts springing up, with arrays of solar panels alongside. The second is a simpler form of technology: speed bumps.
Enough people now have motorbikes that speeding has become a real danger. After a child was hit and injured recently, the villagers took action themselves to resolve the problem and reduce the risk. There is an interesting parallel here with hygiene promotion, which is a key element of all water and sanitation projects: if people come to understand and accept that poor hygiene practices also pose a danger to children, they may take action themselves (such as handwashing with soap or building latrines) to reduce this risk too. But even if people know the link between poor hygiene and poor health, old habits can be hard to change – one participant at World Water Week in Stockholm observed that many of the water, sanitation and hygiene experts there did not bother to wash their hands after using the toilet.
I’m in Bamako, the capital of Mali, in West Africa. Although I’ve been here a few months, my PhD field research is just getting started, so ‘Beginning’ seemed a suitable blog title. I know it’s also going to be the start of a continuous learning process as I investigate, in collaboration with WaterAid, the different ways in which poor rural communities contribute to water and sanitation. I’m going to use this blog to record and share some of my ongoing observations, thoughts and ideas.
For now, I’ll leave you with an alternative introduction to Bamako: the film by Abderrahmane Sissako which takes its name from the city. It’s a brilliant picture which combines a fascinating mock-trial of the World Bank and IMF versus African civil society with moving drama and wonderful music. Highly recommended.