Sanitation in Ghana: Saying ‘yes’, changing lives
By JO ANDREWS, UNICEF UK
BUYOR, Ghana, 13 November 2013 - In May 2013 I travelled to the Volta region of Ghana with Eric Ostern from the Unilever Global Foundation team and Susan Buckwalter, Assistant Brand Manager at Unilever US and global ambassador for the UNICEF partnership. This was their first visit to see UNICEF’s work for themselves.
Ghana is a beautiful country, home to diverse peoples and cultures. It has a reputation as a model African state, with an established justice system, a free press, and well developed institutions. but it is nevertheless a country of great disparities: a fifth of the country’s 25 million citizens lives in extreme poverty, and lack of access to sanitation, especially in rural areas, is a serious problem. In 2011 only 15% of Ghanaians had access to a toilet, and five million people in the country were practising open defecation.
These factors contribute to the poor health of Ghana’s children. With diarrhoea a major cause, one in 11 children in Ghana dies before the age of five.
Unilever is supporting UNICEF’s work to improve sanitation facilities and to encourage good hygiene, in Volta and other regions of Ghana, through the a community led approach. We met with District officials to learn about this important work.
During our visit, we travelled to the remote village of Buyor, where we took part in a triggering exercise with the local community. The village leaders created a map on the ground, showing us where they live and where they defecate in the open.
They invited us to walk with them through the village and surrounding area, and we saw for ourselves the poor condition of makeshift toilets and areas of open defecation. Known as the ‘walk of shame’, this exercise encourages communities to take responsibility for improving their sanitation practices.
When the singing and clapping had died down, a young boy walked forward and spoke for all the children – he asked the parents to act now to end unhealthy sanitation practices and to make life better and safer for all the children. It was a very moving moment and one we will all remember for a long time. The impact on the parents was instantaneous and a commitment to making changes and to building household toilets was made.
Some of the villagers were inspired to volunteer as natural leaders, taking on responsibility for supporting and encouraging others and leading the community towards becoming open defecation free.
We also visited communities which have already made these changes, such as the village of Yadzo, where we talked to community members about their experiences. The women and girls in Yadzo are happy because they no longer feel scared or embarrassed when visiting the toilet, and the children don’t get sick so often.
The village elders spoke about their journey towards their community becoming open defecation free, the celebrations when this was achieved and a new way of living.
The people of Yadzo proudly showed us the latrines and hand washing stations that they have built in their community.
It was inspiring to hear how much these families’ lives have changed as a result of the programmes supported by Unilever.
Rejoice, a young married mum explained to us that before the triggering, children in Xevikpotame often fell sick from diarrhoea. When the facilitators came to the community to talk with Rejoice and her neighbours, they started to realise that by defecating in the open, they were encouraging disease as flies carried germs to and from the faeces, the village’s animals and the cooking areas and homes.
Rejoice decided with her husband to build a toilet in her household. Nowadays, she always washes her hands after visiting the toilet. Rejoice also took on a leader’s role in the community and met with others to discuss the sanitation situation, helping other women to understand and get involved in the improvements. Five of the six women she met with have put up their own latrines so far.
The future is now bright, the village has good sanitation – and Rejoice is happy.Eric and Susan toured the facilities and congratulated community elders, before joining the children for some fun.
We came away with a lot to talk about and some amazing memories.
Jo Andrews is a Corporate Relations Manager at UNICEF UK. This blog post was originally published on the UNICEF UK blog.