Hygiene at the heart of communities
A model community endorses good hygiene and sanitation practices in Sikasso
Far from the industrial pollution of the cotton ginning factories of Koutiala, the third most populous city in Mali, the village of Soungoumba is a breath of fresh air. At the end of the cool season, the landscape is still green and the temperature mild. Animals here are well-fed and graze merrily along the rural track leading to the village, 55 km from the capital of the district. The village is clean, peaceful and pleasant: Soungoumba exudes health!
Early in the morning, 12-year-old Mawa Berthé, a 6th grade pupil, is busy cleaning the family yard. She collects dead mango tree leaves to be used as compost, which are then stored in a corner of the shed. Next comes fetching water and filling the hand washing device. Mawa carries out this daily ritual before heading to school with her classmates.
The Soungoumba school is made up of two school blocks, primary and secondary, which extend into a large, well-shaded courtyard. The school, which has 1,327 students, including 670 girls, is not only recognized for its efforts to promote the education of girls, but also for its promotion of hygiene. The school complex has separate latrines for girls and boys, hand washing devices and a borehole for drinking water. Noisy students play before the bell sounds.
“We wash our hands with soap at critical moments, especially before preparing meals and after using the bathroom”
On Tuesday, 15 October, Global Handwashing Day, the Koutiala Teaching Academy has decided that lessons will be given in all schools in the district. In fact, washing hands with soap at key moments helps prevent diarrhea, one of the leading causes of child mortality in Mali. The teacher of the day explains that washing hands with soap is one of the most simple and important ways to keep food safe, prevent illness and help children grow. At the end of the class, she invites Mawa Berthé to summarize the lesson. "Hand washing with soap is done at critical moments, especially before preparing meals, before eating or giving children food, and after using the bathroom," Mawa says.
Thanks to the support of USAID, and through its NGO partner JIGI ("Hope"), UNICEF has, since December 2018, supported the implementation of the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach in 20 localities of Koutiala district, including 8 in the rural commune of Koningué. CLTS is an integrated approach that involves encouraging the community to analyze its own hygiene and sanitation situation, as well as its defecation practices and their consequences. This is in order to generate a collective effort to reach and maintain “open defecation free” (ODF) status, through the construction of latrines by the community itself.
“Community-Led Total Sanitation helped us become aware of hygiene and sanitation. Our yards and our environment are clean”
In a country where open defecation is still practiced by 7% of the population, talking about human excreta remains taboo. Mawa Berthé now spreads the word not only to her family, but also to the community of Sougoumba. With strong conviction, she delivers the lessons she’s learned after less than a year of their implementation. “CLTS helped us become aware of hygiene and sanitation. Our yards and our environment are clean. This protects us from diseases such as diarrhea, conjunctivitis and respiratory infections.”
The impact of CLTS on the community's health is obvious, says Zoumana Berthé, technical director of the community health center in Sougoumba. It could not be clearer. “There’s been a radical change in how communities behave. As proof, curative consultations went from 51% to 38%, or 7,859 consultations in 2018 down to 6,151 in 2019.” Most of these cases, he says, come from areas that have not yet adopted CLTS.
“Hand washing with soap is integrated into the cultural, educational and social practices of children in these villages”
Crescent Dabou, Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Administrator at the UNICEF office in Sikasso, is satisfied with the results. “The results are convincing. We’ve noticed, for example, the cleanliness of the villages, schools and health centers, a decrease in diarrhea, malaria and acute respiratory infections, and the strengthening of social cohesion. Indeed, good hygiene and sanitation practices, including handwashing with soap, are integrated into the cultural, educational and social practices of children in these villages.”
The mayor of the Koningué commune, Souleymane Berthé is therefore delighted that his commune coupled the inauguration of a monument dedicated to CLTS with the celebration of Global Handwashing Day. An invitation was given to every man, woman, child, teacher, and healthcare worker in these villages, to emphasize good hygiene and sanitation practices and to maintain, more than ever, a community free of open defecation.
Since its introduction in Mali less than a decade ago, the CLTS strategy has experienced rapid development. Under the leadership of the National Directorate for Sanitation and Pollution and Nuisance Control, with the support of UNICEF and partners such as USAID, the approach has convinced numerous NGOs, including Jigi, who are now actively involved in its development in rural areas. By the end of 2018, more than 3,500 villages had eradicated open defecation, enabling almost 3 million people to live in a healthy environment free of diseases linked to lack of hygiene and sanitation.
As for model student Mawa Berthé, hygiene and health have since become her main concerns. "My wish is to be a doctor and help my community," says Mawa, as a good Samaritan.