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Children and the communities in the urban slums of Tamil Nadu are being taught to follow better health and hygiene practices through comic strips with relevant animated characters. The Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP), based in Chennai, has created appealing comic strips to pique viewers’ interest as a part of community initiatives to promote discussions on health and hygiene issues.

Comic strips with relatable animated characters have built a fun narrative around water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices among slum dwellers, especially for children.

TNUSSP was launched in November 2015 to support the state government’s initiatives in improving the entire sanitation chain across cities. The Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) is leading the initiative to expand safe and inclusive sanitation practices across Tamil Nadu.

Niladri Chakraborti, who oversees Tiruchi’s City-Wide Inclusive Sanitation Program (CWIS), leads the initiatives shown in the comics.

In the colourful comic strips, Priya and Meena are the two main characters who depict the WASH conditions in urban slums. The two characters through their conversations narrate the problems around sanitation and hygiene.

In one of the comic strips, Priya and Meena initiate a conversation as they try to find out the reason behind the illness of their children. A sanitation facilitator walks in and asks them to provide samples of their stored drinking water. After the test, it is found that the drinking water they had been using contained fecal coliform bacteria. The two women are shocked to know this.

The facilitator then demonstrates how water can get re-contaminated at any point, from collecting and transporting it to handling and storing it, and eventually drinking it. When questioned if they remembered to wash their hands after open defecation in the fields, the women confessed that they had not, and that they had gone straight to fetch water for their families. The facilitator intervenes to draw attention to the clear link between handwashing and water pollution. The women are keen to learn how to keep their family disease-free, and they are taught how to remove impurities from drinking water with simple steps like boiling it.

The comic strip uses colourful, realistic visuals to deliver the intended message. It’s accompanied by brief text and pictures that explain the field activities and methods used to explore a sanitation issue.

The TNUSSP has published a comic book to promote WASH practices in schools and urban neighbourhoods.

The aim, according to IIHS’s Abhilaasha Nagarajan, who assisted in the creation of the comics, is to make TNUSSP’s vast research findings accessible to everyone working in sanitation.

Mission Paani, an initiative by News 18 and Harpic India, aims to create awareness about water conservation, safe sanitation and hygiene. The campaign works towards amplifying the communication around water, sanitation and hygiene.