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Changing mindsets with community-led total sanitation

© UNICEF/T. Delvigne-Jean
In Chibwe, tabulation is drawn on white paper and held up for everyone to see – 84,720 piles of faeces annually from 93 households.

Changara, Mozambique, May 2010 – The pounding of the drums begins the dancing. A crowd of adults and children watch from under the small umbrella relief of tall leafy trees. After a lengthy roll of beats, the dancing stops and the circle opens to envelope visitors from UNICEF and World Vision.

The visitors have come to talk not of tribal trifles but of toilets. In rural Chibwe village in Mozambique’s Tete province, hardly anyone uses a toilet, and diarrhoea and cholera are common diseases. This is also true for 60 per cent of the country’s 20 million people.

“How do you say ‘shit’?” asks UNICEF WASH specialist Americo Muianga. Huge giggles erupt from the crowd, along with the answer, “matudzi.” Muianga is pleased. He wants them laughing. Then he asks why they defecate in the open.

And so begins the revolution.

Breaking from a tradition of building latrines for individual households, UNICEF and World Vision are collaborating to convince communities that there is a need for them to work together to shift from the harmful practice of open defecation to the hygienic use of toilets.

The approach is called Community-Led Total Sanitation, and it is quickly spreading across the African continent. It is part of an ambitious scheme called the One Million Initiative that aims to provide safe sanitation and water to a million people by 2013. Funded by the Dutch Government, UNICEF is working with local governments and 16 non-governmental partners to reach communities in 18 districts. 

Changing mindsets

Community-Led Total Sanitation emphasises that change comes from self-realisation rather than lecture. And it involves humour and a game-like exercise of show-and-tell.

“When you arrive in the village you want to create a welcoming environment so you can then start asking them about their toilet practices,” explains Mr. Muianga. 

Volunteers are drawn from the crowd to draw a map of their village. In Chibwe, the villagers use a stick to outline the roads and houses in the sand.  White maize powder defines the major landmarks: the school, the water point, the road to the nearest clinic, the local church.  More volunteers are asked to stand where they live.  From there they are given grey ash and asked to mark where they defecate.  Embarrassed chuckles follow as piles of grey ash appear on the map.

“You then calculate the quantity of [faeces] for each week, month and year for each household,” says Mr. Muianga, preferring the English term for matudzi. “Then you start discussing the quantity and where it goes.”

© UNICEF/T. Delvigne-Jean
In Chibwe, villagers use a stick to outline the roads and houses in the sand. White maize powder defines the school, the water point, the road to the nearest clinic, the local church.

The tabulation is drawn on white butcher paper and held up for everyone to see – 84,720 piles of faeces annually from 93 households. The giggles become laughs.

Then begins the  ‘walk of shame’ in which village members are asked to physically go to where the excreta is and see how it could infect the local water supply or contribute to breeding grounds for flies and mosquitoes.

The penny drops

They return to the shade of the trees for a food demonstration. A plate of fresh food is given to a volunteer to eat. After a few mouthfuls, the plate is put in the centre of the crowd, along with some just-collected faeces. It does not take long in the heat for the flies to move back and forth between the two. Asked to resume eating, the community volunteer quickly refuses, shaking his head in horror.

No one chuckles. They get it.

Mr. Muianga then asks the community to set up a 12-member village sanitation committee. The mindset conversion has to be quickly followed by action, otherwise the momentum of the experience is likely to be lost, he later explains.

Community participation

The sanitation committee must help design a latrine that can be made using available materials so that all families can afford to build one. When locals design their own latrines, they become more connected to the necessity of it, explains Mr. Muianga. “It is a self-realisation of the problem in each of the villages.”

Self-designing also encourages innovation. In another village near Chibwe, for example, 170 households each installed a wooden square outhouse with thatched roof that the sanitation committee had designed. The designers put a small door for privacy and a place to wash hands out front. The plastic bottle is cut in half and attached at each end of two sticks, with a rope attached. They are filled with water. When the rope is tugged, they tip and wash away the dangerous pathogens.

The community process used in Chibwe to convince every household to build and use their own toilet is being replicated in three provinces of central Mozambique. Communities that reach open defecation-free status are rewarded –each village receive a certificate and a bicycle – which encourages peer group pressure and competition among villages to maintain their status.

“Community participation is very important because when we develop programmes in which the beneficiaries don’t participate, they end up not being sustainable,” says Cadmiel Muthemba, Mozambique’s Minister of Public Works and Housing. “Community participation ensures ownership of the programme.”

Now in its third year, the One Million Initiative has reached almost 600,000 people with improved sanitation and access to safe water. Independent auditors found only one household without a toilet among all the villages certified as open defecation-free in 2009. And that family had only recently moved into the village.  



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