Toilets close to home, children far from illness
UNICEF is working with communities to end open defecation, helping build or improve toilets at home, and teaching people when and how to wash their hands
Thirty children and their parents huddle around a hand-drawn map. Little boxes represent village homes, swirled lines for roads and pathways, and a bold circle represents the health centre. Between the homes, X’s dot the paper like a treasure map.
But this is no treasure map. It’s a map of which homes have toilets – or latrines – and where more of them must be built.
In villages across Afghanistan, like this one in eastern Laghman Province, UNICEF aims to end open defecation through these community "triggering" sessions. In these sessions, people like 23-year-old Kamaluddin learn about hygiene and how handwashing with soap can prevent diseases, and how building a simple toilet at home can keep his nieces and nephews healthy and bring dignity to his family.
"Now, thank God, our children are safe and far from disease."
Kamaluddin speaks of his nieces with warm affection. Before Kamaluddin helped his brother build a toilet at home, 6-year-old Asra had to defecate in an open field.
Contact with faeces often made her sick, and without a place to wash her hands, she suffered from diarrhoea.
"Now, thank God, our children are safe and far from disease," says Kamaluddin.
In partnership with the European Union, UNICEF aims to certify 885 communities in Afghanistan as "open defecation-free" by the end of 2023.
That's 885 villages like Kamaluddin's where children can thrive.
But a toilet is only one piece of the puzzle. For Asra to truly thrive, she needed a place to wash her hands after using the toilet. After attending UNICEF triggering sessions in his village, Kamaluddin learned that it doesn't take much.
"I put a water container next to the toilet so we can wash our hands," he recounts. "UNICEF gave us soap, and since then, we have not been getting sick."
These bars of soap just one item in a hygiene kit, which UNICEF is distributing to 80,000 people in Afghanistan, funded by the European Union. In addition to soap, these kits contain items like shampoo, a bucket, towels, and laundry soap, so families can keep themselves and their homes clean.
With the map Kamaluddin helped create in the community triggering sessions, more of his neighbours have built toilets at home and are on their way to becoming open defecation-free.
"We used to defecate in fields, but now we use the toilet at home," says Kamaluddin. "We learned how to be more hygienic, like putting ash in the toilet to manage the smell, and we are washing our hands more often."
"It has been a really positive change for me and my family."