Real lives

Real lives


Motherhood: a motivating factor for good sanitation and hygiene practices

© UNICEF Gambia
Thirty-five-year-old Mbombeh Secka, from Lebbe Malick Mbye in The Gambia’s Central River Region, is determined to keep her twins healthy by engaging in good hygiene and sanitation practices.

Mbombeh Secka lay her sleeping daughters, twin toddlers -Adama and Awa, on the bed before moving away to start preparing the evening meal. As a housewife and retail farmer from the Upper Saloum District in The Gambia’s impoverished Central River Region, Mbombeh leads a hard life tending for her children while cultivating garden vegetables and cereals like coos and corn to feed her family as well as sell at the market to support her farmer husband. With such a burden, she is usually unable to give all her children the attention they need. 

“I have 8 children and 6 of them used to get sick often with diarrhoea and vomiting when they were younger,” said 35-year-old Mbombeh. “My youngest children, who are just under 2-years old, hardly ever get sick. I believe that it is because of my knowledge of good sanitation and hygiene practices, which I gained in the past year.” 

Mbombeh Secka’s village, Lebbe Malick Mbye, like many villages in the region engaged in poor hygiene and sanitation practices such as open defecation. About a year ago, only a fraction of households had access to a toilet. Mbombeh’s extended family of over 50 people had only one toilet between them which was usually reserved for the elders and men of the family. Everybody else used the bushes encircling the village while the younger children defecated in the back yards. 

“At the time, our village was not very clean,” admitted Mbombeh. “We threw garbage in different parts of the village and there were flies everywhere. Whenever I took my sick child to the health centre, the nurse (community health nurse) would tell me that he or she will become much healthier if my hygiene practices improved. I tried my best for my children’s sake, but I did not know what to do differently.”

In early 2014, Lebbe Malick Mbye was one of several villages triggered by the Ministry of Health to implement the Community Led Total Sanitation programme. The programme mobilizes and empowers communities to adopt best hygiene and sanitation practices such as abandoning open defecation, building improved latrines, keeping their environment clean and washing their hands with soap.  

The triggering involved rigorous sensitization on good hygiene and sanitation practices, the mapping out of defecation sites, the development of a village-level abandonment action plan, and the construction of latrines by the villagers using local and affordable materials.

“Our village was quick to adopt the programme because when somebody comes from very far to help you improve the health of your children, you do not argue with them,” said Mbombeh. “Early last year, we started throwing garbage far outside the village and building toilets. Today, every household has a toilet or two and every toilet has water and soap for hand washing. My older children have adopted the practice of washing their hands with soap after using the toilet and as often as possible. In addition, I make sure that my food is covered properly and keep my kitchen clean, among other practices.”

With enough toilets to serve the villagers and sufficient knowledge among the population of the importance of personal and environmental cleanliness and good hygiene practices, the people and especially the children of Lebbe Malick Mbye are indisputably much heathier, according to Mbombeh. 

“When you have children, especially little ones, you do not joke with health issues,” Mbombeh stated. “In the past year, our village has seen the health benefits of the programme and I do not believe we shall ever go back to our unhealthy way of life again.”

The village has a focal person to monitor and report on dissidents as well as serve as a liaison between the villagers and the health workers for information sharing. So far, the focal person has not encountered any challenges. The village was certified open defecation free in February 2015.   

“My advice to those who still defecate in the environment they live in is that they must try to build and use a toilet because it promotes good health and dignity for both children and adults,” concluded Mbombeh.    



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