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At a glance: Sierra Leone

School-led sanitation programme in Sierra Leone empowers children and their community with life-saving knowledge

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2012
In Masaka, Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone, Memenatu Conteh and her friend demonstrate the improved hand-washing techniques they have learned through their school's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Club. The club seeks to improve hygiene and sanitation both at the school and in the village.

World Toilet Day, 19 November, is an international day of action aimed to break the taboo around toilets and draw attention to the global sanitation challenge, raising global awareness of the daily struggle for proper sanitation that a staggering 2.5 billion people face.

The event brings together different groups, such as media, the private sector, development organizations and civil society in a global movement to advocate for safe toilets.

For more information on World Toilet Day, click here.

TONKOLILI, Sierra Leone, 19 November 2012 – Fourteen-year-old Memenatu Conteh had been exposed to many of the dangers that are linked to poor sanitation and hygiene.

She missed school because she had to travel to the Makkrugbe clinic for treatment for severe diarrhoea.

She also stepped on a thorn when she was on her way into the bush to defecate, which resulted in a painful infection. One of her brothers was bitten by a snake while defecating in the bush and was unable to walk for some time.

But that was before the School-Led Total Sanitation (SLTS) programme began.

Water, sanitation and hygiene programme rolled out

Memenatu attends TDC Primary School in Masaka. TDC Masaka is one of six schools in the Tonkolili District that has been taking part in the School Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Project. The project is helping schools to provide child-friendly WASH facilities and to conduct School Sanitation and Hygiene Education and SLTS in schools in the district.

As part of SLTS, Memenatu has learned how to avoid the challenges she faced earlier. She has also joined the WASH Club at her school, taking the energy she shows on the football field and applying it to improving hygiene and sanitation both at her school and in the village in which she lives.

Knowledge shared with the community triggers action

The 12 children of the WASH Club, two teachers and the School Management Committee Chairperson have taken part in intensive training and committed to ensuring that hygiene and sanitation practices are not only upheld at the school, but are also taken out into the community.

TDC Masaka’s WASH Club members and the teachers have been so dedicated and their presentations so compelling that Masaka village has triggered itself into action. The demonstrations have helped the community visualize the link between open defecation and disease.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2012
Children from WASH Club demonstrate the techniques they have used to trigger the community to improve its WASH facilities. The village has been declared open defecation free.

The community has constructed latrines and hand-washing facilities. In fact, Masaka village has now been declared open defecation free, which means that each household now has access to its own latrines and hand-washing facilities. 

Club’s work is ongoing

With victory over open defecation declared, the work of the WASH Club is still ongoing. According to Memunatu, “Sometimes we go round the village after school to ask people to construct latrines, and those who have not completed their latrines to do so. We also advise them to sweep around their toilets and compounds. We tell them to always cover the holes of their latrines. We go to house after house to check on them and give the messages.”

She explains that even their closest relatives have required some encouragement. “Even my uncle had to be reminded before he finished his toilet work,” she says.

Now the children are sharing their knowledge further afield. Head teacher of the school Mohamed A. Kamara describes the children’s work to encourage surrounding communities to become open defecation free: “They go around not only in this community, but in other communities like 5-Mile, even Mayumto, on sensitization tours, telling people how to prevent disease. They sometimes sing songs, and we have been given a megaphone so that we can use it on such expeditions. They usually present small plays/skits depicting what the people should/should not do to avoid disease.”

What a difference sanitation has made

Memenatu says, “[W]hat a difference the SLTS has made in our lives as pupils, to the school and to the community as a whole. Before the programme started, we did not know anything about brushing the compound or how to keep it clean. But now that we have been taught about the importance of being healthy, we do it every day. We did not sweep or cover the toilet holes before. We just left them open. But now, we have learnt all of that, and we practise it always.”

Memenatu says that she wants to continue to be part of the WASH Club, and continue to share the knowledge that she has gained. “I want to continue because my brother used to get sick. But, after digging the toilet, he has not fallen sick again. We are no longer suffering from any sicknesses in our house. That is why I like this project.”



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