Water Rocks: Guitars Help Rid Developing Nation of Waterborne Diseases

by Adrianna Kuzma

A popular game allows kids to play with a band and score points by playing notes on the screen. Guitar Hero is popular because a person can sing, dance, and perform to be part of their favorite song. Today in Mozambique, there is a man who actually is a guitar hero.

In my last column, I discussed how nanotechnology is an important water-cleaning method, but if the people – especially children – do not have sanitary habits fully established, then access to improved water sources may make little difference. Without an understanding of water safety, even the newest technologies may fail as diarrhea-related illness and death overtake a community. The World Health Organization reports that a leading cause of death for children living in developing countries is a lack of access to clean water, hygiene, and sanitation (World).

There are various ways of teaching people about safe water habits, but an especially innovative one was developed by a man named Feliciano dos Santos, who incorporates uplifting, inspirational rock music in his lessons on hygiene and sanitation. Four years ago, dos Santos won the prestigious international Goldman Environmental Prize for his grassroots work in one of the poorest regions in Africa. In the rural Niassa region of Mozambique where he lives, dos Santos formed an Afro-pop band and named it after a regional fruit called Massukos. The band’s name reflects the history of the country. After a sixteen-year long Civil War ended in 1992, development was possible again, and dos Santos chose the band’s name to stress its role of providing spiritual nourishment.

As a toddler, dos Santos caught polio, losing part of his leg due to contaminated water.  He heroically overcame the loss by pouring his energy into his work to solve the polluted-water crisis in his region. He formed the nonprofit organization Estamos to coordinate community-based educational music and theatre productions as well as installing pumps, building wells and composting latrines.

Feliciano dos Santos is pictured here wearing a shirt with the word “estamos” printed on it. Formed in 1996, this nongovernmental organization NGO was founded specifically to address water safety issues in Mozambique. (Feliciano dos Santos. The Goldman Prize Recipient. Mozambique: Sustainable Development, 2008. http://www.goldmanprize.org/2008/africa)

In partnership with Water Aid, dos Santos has carried health messages to rural areas lacking water infrastructure.  Specifically, dos Santos works side by side with the people of Mozambique to build low-cost composting latrines that consist of two brick-lined pits for a household. Located away from wells, the brick or cement lining prevents contamination of ground water.  Preventing odor and flies, ash collected from the cook fire is sprinkled after each use of the latrine.

There are added benefits not directly related to water safety. The family sprinkles ash and soil down after each use. They wait approximately eight months while the harmful pathogens die off, leaving rich, essentially free, fertilizer behind. Producing beyond subsistence levels, the resulting crops afford the farmers an income to allow for improvements or such things as school supplies (Feliciano). Farmers in the area report that this organic compost produces higher yields, and unlike expensive artificial fertilizers, this compost enriches the soil for better retention of nutrients and water (Nourishing).

Feliciano dos Santos is seen with residents of a local village. Concerts are followed by workshops explaining villagers’ options for water and sanitation. (Feliciano dos Santos The Goldman Prize Recipient.  Mozambique: Sustainable Development, 2008. http://www.goldmanprize.org/2008/africa)

Described as the Elton John of Mozambique, dos Santos uses music to promote safe behaviors because people love music, and music is a part of every community.  Music has rhythm, melody, and voice. Dos Santos takes these powerful elements to create his message music. Rhythm is a key element that makes music enjoyable to dance to. Rhythm is the foundation of music in Africa. It is rather simple; therefore, it is important to make sure that when a person is strumming a chord on a guitar that it is regular in the sense of being easy to dance to. In a PBS Frontline video about Massuko, children are seen dancing excitedly to the band’s bouncy rhythm (Mozambique). It is also good if the rhythm allows the audience to clap their hands to it. If the music does not have a rhythm, then the mind would not be able to remember it easily. A good rhythm will stick in the minds of the audience. In an interview, dos Santos explained: “in every song we use the rhythm of some traditional music — for the people it’s ‘ah this is our song’ and it speaks to them, it’s in sync with their culture. We weave in melodies from the community to the songs and then introduce a new idea like clean water systems” (Pryor).

Feliciano dos Santos shown performing with his band Massukos.  In combination with his outreach, his music effectively communicates about water safety. (Feliciano dos Santos. The Goldman Prize Recipient.  Mozambique: Sustainable Development, 2008. http://www.goldmanprize.org/2008/africa)

Local melodies give Massuko’s songs spice, color and taste. Combined with traditional rhythms, the songs are fresh yet accessible. At times, the music utilizes the distinctive reggae rhythmic accents on the off-beat. Melody and rhythm comes together to help the audience recall the song and sing it so that others can enjoy it, thereby spreading the water safety message throughout the community. In this way, the song’s melody is taught to others and the simple life-saving messages about hygiene, sanitation and HIV/AIDS are quickly broadcast to everyone in the Niassa region. Dos Santos points out that the Massukos Song “Washing Hands” uses village melodies and phrases to motivate hygiene. The song can be heard here:

Explorers: Feliciano dos Santos, Musician and Activist.  National Geographic Videos. Web. 22 July 2012. http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/specials/in-the-field-specials/curiosity-felciano-dos-santos/

Let’s wash our hands
Let’s wash our hands
For the children to stay healthy
For the uncles to stay healthy
For the mothers to stay healthy
We build latrines.

These lyrics provide a life- saving message in a catchy way because of the melody and rhythm. Commenting on how rapidly the song becomes part of the local culture, dos Santos comments: “When we were driving there, all the children began to sing this song. So that idea stays in people’s heads and stimulates a process. Whenever a mother hears that song, she remembers that she needs to wash her hands. Music stays in our head. If we observe the feelings that have an impact on people – when they are sad, when somebody dies – they are all portrayed by music” (Interview). The voice is like a human touch. The human voice is the glue that holds everything together in the song. The chorus often becomes an anthem of the Niassa region of Mozambique, conveying a post-Civil War jubilation while conveying the message of the song. The message might be pride in Niassa, how to keep the environment clean, or how to clean hands to keep people healthy. Feliciano dos Santos plays on the guitar, sings about sanitary matters, and follows up by facilitating the building of wells and latrines.

Members of the internationally-acclaimed band, Massukos. (Massukos Band Members. Poo Productions. 2007. Web. 22 July 2012.  http://www.massukos.org  To hear Massukos go to: http://www.myspace.com/massukos/radio )

On the web site for the band, the purpose of their music is defined: “Massukos was conceived as a way to preserve and communicate the rhythms and culture of Niassa, the band’s home province in northern Mozambique. They sing in Yao, Nyanga and Makua (Massuko). Although music does not command action, people can absorb its message at a deep level and dos Santos notes this mnemonic character of songs: “Music has a potential to remain recorded in the mind. As long as the music starts, people remember what they forgot [such as washing their hands], so music becomes effective. And it is effective not only because it stays in people’s minds, but also because it can be carried wherever they go – [its message] is part of them” (Interview).  Not all popular music is equally memorable, so it is a measure of the band’s originality that its traditional Mozambican elements combine with reggae elements in a unique but memorable way.

Of course, Estamos is not the only group doing this work. Church-affiliated groups, such as New Hope International (partnering with 100 Wells) and Catholic Relief Services have also been very involved in community water projects that include a similar range of efforts not just in the area of construction but education as well (One; Catholic). Convincing people to change water behavior around the taboo subject of latrines involves more than providing point of source water purification. Especially since children are often most dramatically affected by water and sanitation issues, presenting the hygiene message in a simple, yet lively and memorable way is very motivating. The point is that this untapped type of teaching could be employed in many developing countries because music is part of culture in every country. Through music, Dos Santos is able to convey a life-saving message that keeping clean means staying safe from waterborne diseases. To the people of Mozambique, he is indeed a guitar hero.

Works Cited

Catholic Relief Services. “CRS Capacity in the Water Sector.”  Oct. 2009. Web. 24 July 2012. http://crs.org/water-sanitation/pubs/WATSAN-innov-cap-final.pdf

Estamos. Web. 15 July 2012.  http://www.estamos.org.mz/ver_english/index.html

Explorers: Feliciano dos Santos, Musician and Activist. National Geographic Videos. Web. 22 July 2012. http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/specials/in-the-field-specials/curiosity-felciano-dos-santos/

Feliciano dos Santos. The Goldman Prize Recipient. Mozambique. Africa. Sustainable Development. 2008. http://www.goldmanprize.org/2008/africa

Interview: Feliciano dos Santos. Frontline World. PBS. March 2008. Web. 22 July 2012. http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/mozambique704/interview/santos.html

Massukos. Poo Productions. Press. Web. 22 July 2012. http://www.sonicbids.com/2/EPK/?epk_id=132642#press ; http://www.massukos.org

Mozambique: Guitar Hero. Serene Fang and Marjorie Mcafee. Feliciano dos Santos. Frontline World. PBS. WGBH/Boston. 27 May 2008. http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/mozambique704/

Niassa by Massukos. 12  April 2007. Massukos. YouTube. Web. 21 July 2012.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZXYGIXbN8A&feature=player_embedded#!

Nourishing the land. Water Aid. Web. 22 July 2012.  http://www.wateraidamerica.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/mozambique/nourishing_the_land.aspx

One Hundred Wells. Unchained Mozambique. 12Stone. http://www.100wells.org/index.html

Pryor, Tom. “Feliciano Dos Santos Awarded Goldman Prize: Mozambican Musician Awarded Prestigious Environmental Award for Clean Water Activism.” National Geographic. Music. April 2008. Web. 20 July 2012. http://worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com/view/page.basic/article/content.article/feliciano_dos_santos

Snyder, David and Christine Banga. “Water Project Brings Relief to Parched Village.” Catholic Relief Services. 2012. Web.15 July 2012. http://crs.org/kenya/pumps-and-dams

World Health Organization. “Diarrhoeal Disease.”  Media Centre. Fact sheet 330.  August 2009.  Web.  12 July 2012.  http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs330/en/index.html

“Musician’s Campaign for Clean Water Wins Environmental Award.” 13 April 2008. Water Aid.  Web. 22 July 2012. http://www.wateraidamerica.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/mozambique/nourishing_the_land.aspx

About the Author: Adrianna is a homeschooler from Indiana. She loves to sew and has made Regency ball gowns as well as fleece pet beds. She plays the cello, loves cats, and is passionate about caring for the planet. She recently produced a video on bottled water that won a national award.

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