What made her do the right thing?

I walk to my office every morning. I pass walls of maize and waves of legume farms. After the primary school, if I walk slow, I get to my office after 7 minutes after leaving my place. I can almost listen to 2 songs while I’m walking. It’s refreshing and effective at the same time for blocking children’s enthusiastic calls for attention that’s repeated every morning.

A few days ago, I changed my walk path. It takes approximately 2 minutes longer than my usual route. Taking another path can be a way of refreshing my mundane daily patterns. This time, though, I changed because I wanted to spend more time alone in peace at least while I was walking. My mind was going noisy enough with rage, disappointment, and every other negative thoughts from work. On my little detour, I noticed a pool of water at the edge of the road quite near a house. The second day, I noticed the water was still there. It didn’t dry out despite the sun because of the shades widely cast from trees. I got curious and worried at the same time. The stagnant water may encourage mosquito breeding during this season although there are cars passing by time to time. I wanted to know if the house owner is aware of the pool which may enable mosquitos to breed in. However, I slightly feel guilty as the reason was partly because I wanted to distract myself from the work stress. Anyhow, I was able to talk to the owner of the house with the help of my colleague.

The house owner said she is aware of the fact that the chances of getting malaria is higher with stagnant water near the house. She said she tried to fill the pool but according to her, her neighbours told her that it was not a good idea. I didn’t fully understand what it was about but I moved on. We talked a little bit more and I asked if she is using mosquito nets in bed. She said she is waiting for the organisation to give her the nets saying it is too expensive to buy.

A few days later, I was passing by the road in a car and found the road filled with brick parts. It was a quick change. I was impressed and confused at the same time. What made her do this? What drove her to get those bricks and spend her energy on fixing it?

The first time I saw the fix, I just thought, “oh she did it. I’m impressed.” But as time went by, little by little did the unidentified fear crawl in. Did I miss something here? Something must’ve made her decide to do this and I don’t know what it is! I just asked a few questions that’s it. The fear.

Lately, I’ve been working on the Theory of Planned Behavior. According to the theory, behaviour is driven by behavioural intentions which are integrated by attitudes (one’s behavioural beliefs and one’s evaluation of the outcome of the behaviour), subjective norms (normative beliefs and motivation to comply with the norm), and perceived behavioral control (control beliefs and influence of control beliefs). So what is it that affected on her behaviour?

  1. She knew that standing water was harmful as it can encourage mosquitos to lay eggs in. She knew that removing the water is a good idea. She believed that this kind of behaviour is good for protecting herself from malaria.
  2. She was visited by a foreigner development worker and asked about the stagnant water and about malaria. I will assume that foreigners in this village is considered more educated than the average villagers. In that case, she learned that the water is harmful from the person she considered more educated than herself. Normative belief – or social pressure in other words.
  3. Filling in the ankle-deep pool of water with soil or bricks is within her reach. Control?

According to this theory, she satisfies all three (though a little not known in control). But what if there was another factor: an expectation? She mentioned that she was waiting for the organisation to give her bed nets. Was she possibly trying to impress the agent so that she can get something in return? Or, could the fact that she tried (or considered) to fill the road before her neighbours disagreed with the idea change her mind easily with just a little bit amount of stimulation?

It is obvious the owner was aware of the impact in the first place. Repeated education with relevant experiences and the trust in that specific contents may have played the foundational role here, based on how confidently she answered my questions and her appeal that she tried to do something about it in the past.

This still really confuses me. I wasn’t prepared for this. Part of me wonders – and fears – what if making changes is all about asking the right questions and nudging people to do something right themselves, instead of introducing new things?


Photograph: Clem Onojeghuo

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An anthropology novice with passion for small things. A development worker in a world of imponderabilia.

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