My Friend Riaz-Uddin

Words by Pete Yao
01 August, 2014

I think I may just have the best job in the world.

‘Working’ at Thankyou over the last few years has taken me to some of the most remote locations on the planet. Places so remote and rural where hospitals, roads, toilets and access to safe water seem like ‘foreign’ concepts.

It’s also incredibly sad to hear that because these communities have been living like this for so long, some of them feel forgotten. And as a consequence, these groups of people continue to believe that their stories and lives are insignificant.

On projects trips, we have an incredible opportunity to empower these local communities by giving them a platform for their voices to be heard. We usually bring a team solely dedicated to listening to and capturing their stories to share with Australians.

In doing so, we hope to be able to remind them that people (living thousands of kilometres away) care about their lives and believe in them, and their stories.

I recently returned from Assam, India where our team visited the largest water and health and hygiene projects that we’ve funded to date.

The climate in Assam, like other parts of India, was extremely hot. However unlike other parts of India, Assam is prone to torrential rain and flooding within the wet season.

Flooding so severe that entire houses would be covered in water.

We heard horrific stories of entire communities being forced to flee from their homes to higher ground where they then stayed for days on end on a tiny embankment (no wider than a road). During this time, they would have no access to power, sanitation, transport, communication, latrines and clean water, and no knowledge of when the floodwaters would recede.

During these circumstances, not only was there the immediate danger of drowning, but there was also the reality that they would lose their livestock and agricultural produce – crucial assets for generating income to feed, educate and care for their families.

As we visited these communities in Assam, we met many many amazingly resilient people.

I remembering meeting a man named Riaz-uddin Ahmed in a village that was positioned three and a half hours drive from where we were staying.

The first thing that struck me was how genuinely fun-loving and ‘cheeky’ he was. He is the first person we have ever met on a projects trip that has pulled faces and posed (without any prompting) in front of our cameras.

We also had a good laugh about the fact that I had the same type of shirt he was wearing back home.

As we began to learn more about him, I discovered that Riaz-uddin played an important role in his community. As a secretary of his community’s WASH committee*, he took incredible pride in being “hands-on” (as he described in his own words) in educating and teaching his community on the importance of healthy hygiene practices.

We even had the opportunity to see him happily demonstrating the different stages of washing hands with soap to both our team members, and also to children at his local school.

After speaking with our field partners (OXFAM India), we found out that funding health and hygiene programs aimed at reducing the risk of WASH-borne diseases in these communities is especially crucial in his area.

It is amazing to see how integral the role that people like Riaz-uddin play in preventing the spread of communicable diseases in their communities.

Reflecting on the trip, I often have this thought: ‘What if Riaz-uddin had been born here in Australia?’

And if he had, I have no doubt Riaz-uddin would have been an incredible teacher

I have no doubt that we would have been good friends..

I also have no doubt that he would have had access to clean and safe water, hygiene and sanitation facilities.

*As part of the health and hygiene education programs that each bottle of Thankyou Body Care helps to fund, it funds the facilitation and creation of WASH committees. WASH committees, made up of normal, everyday people from their own local communities, are empowered to maintain and care for water solutions (like wells). They also play an important role in identifying the different water and hygiene needs within their local context. They are instrumental in educating and demonstrating positive hygiene behaviours to their local community.

— Words by Pete Yao