Cambodian children sing for health

As part of a larger maternal and child health and HIV project, a TV advert encouraged children to wash their hands to improve hygiene.

Watch 'the handwashing song'. Children in Cambodia learned about the importance of handwashing to improve hygiene.
When the message is, 'Wash your hands with soap to prevent diarrhœa,' what do you do? You get a bunch of feisty kids and let them sing it to you.
— Deependra Gauchan, executive producer, BBC Media Action's TV advertising in Cambodia

The TV advert was set at playtime, with a group of young children playing a game of rock, paper, scissors. Another child asks to join in. But he's not allowed. The children's singing reveals they're worried he might spread disease because his hands are dirty. "So dirty!" they sing.

Diarrhoea, which can sometimes be prevented by hand washing, is one of the leading causes of death in under-fives in Cambodia.

The song's message is loud and clear: wash your hands with soap or ash after going to the toilet or before eating.

Cute factor

The heart of many a health campaign is to find the key message that will inspire a change of behaviour. As the executive producer of BBC Media Action's TV advertising in Cambodia, Deependra Gauchan, explains:

"When the message is, 'Wash your hands with soap to prevent diarrhœa,' what do you do? You get a bunch of feisty kids and let them sing it to you!"

Large-scale, large reach

The handwashing song was part of a large-scale BBC Media Action Maternal and Child Health (MCH) and HIV project in Cambodia.

Overall 50 key messages were conveyed through a careful selection of different media formats. These included Cambodia's first locally produced TV medical drama, 'Taste of Life', hundreds of live radio phone-in programmes and over 55 television and radio adverts.

Produced in Khmer, the campaign was branded with the slogan 'Good Health, Bright Future' which became a phrase picked up and used in households across the nation.

BBC Media Action research amongst media consumers who looked after children under five years old, and pregnant women, revealed that 99% of them had heard or seen one or more of the different adverts or programmes.

Meanwhile 'The handwashing song' advert, combined with other formats pushing the same message, contributed to a significant increase in the number of people who said they washed their children's hands to prevent diarrhoea. This went up from 10% at the start of the project to 25% by the end.

Going viral

Another song touched the hearts of Cambodians - and it also became BBC Media Action's first ever mobile ringtone.

The unlikely title of this viral hit was 'The breastfeeding song', in which a little girl sings about her younger sibling. The song was remembered by 83% of its target audience, who had heard it either on television, or radio, or as a mobile ringtone.

Watch the breastfeeding song that turned into a mobile ringtone hit.


Leaving a legacy

BBC Media Action's work is not just about producing great programming. Cambodia country director Charles Hamilton, said that the team place a lot of emphasis on training: "Transferring BBC production skills is key to supporting media institutions in Cambodia, enabling them to produce quality programmes with impact", he said.

Project information

Project name HIV/AIDS and MCH campaign
Funder UK government's Department for International Development
Dates 2003-2006
Themes Health
Outputs Public service announcements