Making a Community-Wide Change

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 Natalie Roschnik, School Health and Nutrition Advisor

Niankorobougou, Malawi

January 9, 2013

Part 1

Today I visited Niankorobougou, a village 45 km South of Sikasso town, which in February 2013 was officially certified a “clean” village in which open-air defecation has been eradicated.  It truly has been a radical transformation from a year earlier when human feces could be found all over the village. P8210035

How did this village change so much in less than a year? The answer is Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), an approach pioneered in Bangladesh that leads communities to feel disgust and commit to making important changes.

  1. Men, women and children led by Save the Children agents and trained community volunteers do the “walk of shame” around the village, noting the feces. Nothing is said but the person responsible feels shame.
  2. They map out the village in the dirt, using white chalk, sticks and leaves to mark the rivers, wells, school and maternity center, then putting little piles of ash to show where they found feces.
  3. The community volunteers lead a few simple activities that make them realize that by defecating in the open air, they are eating and drinking their own feces. The one which made them feel most disgust was when a plate of feces was placed next to a plate of rice. The flies immediately come and go from one to the other. The plate of rice was then offered around and everyone turned their head with disgust. They still made faces when telling me about it a year later!
  4. The community commits to eradicating open-air defecation and improving the hygiene situation in their village.

 

Part 2

 

In Niankorobougou, the community committed to building an additional 10 latrines (in addition to the 45 existing ones) and actually built 18. They also improved the 45 existing latrines to include soap or ash, a cover on the hole and a drain to let stagnating water out. Every well now has sticks planted around to hang the buckets (they used to leave them on the ground) and every Sunday the whole community cleans the village. The men remove grasses and rubbish and the women sweep.

 

Today in Niankorobougou, six months after the village was certified, all those I spoke to – the village elders, the women and sanitation committee members – still feel passionate about keeping their village clean. One woman says that when she visits other villages, she finds them really dirty. Everyone also says the village and children are healthier. There are fewer mosquitoes, fewer flies and fewer health problems, particularly malaria and diarrhea.

 

“Last year in July, we had at least 30 cases of malaria and this year, there have been fewer than 10,” they tell me. They are very proud of their village, and I was so impressed that all these changes came from the communities themselves with no external financial support.

 

Save the Children has implemented this approach in 20 communities realizing equal success in each one. In the next couple of years, the team hopes to scale it up to all 250 of the current sponsorship-supported communities.