A community’s journey to ending open defecation

Through a partnership with the Nigerian Government, with support from UNICEF and Japanese sanitation company Lixil, Tukuruwa is now one of 77 communities in Kwali LGA that is proudly open defecation-free

Rita Abiodun, Communication Assistant, UNICEF Nigeria
 A man standing beside a makeshift toilet
19 November 2021

20-year-old Sunday Peter beamed from ear to ear as he washed his hands with water from the recently installed borehole in his community.  For Sunday, having access to clean water and seeing his community abandoning the practice of open defecation is a dream come true and releases years of pent-up fears.

“I always nursed a silent worry for my family members each time they went into the bush to defecate. I will never forget how we lost my grandmother…,” said Sunday Peter.

Explaining further, Sunday Peter said, “My grandmother went to defecate in the bush early one morning, as was the custom in this community. We were all awakened by her screams. A snake had bitten her. The venom overtook her system as we rushed her to the hospital, and we lost her.”

A man cleaning a toilet
Sunday Peter cleaning his toilet
A man washing his hands
Sunday Peter washing his hands

“After that, I was haunted by the fear that my mum, dad - any of us - could be the next victim of a snake bite, because we all defecated in the open. I knew it was a dangerous practice and none of us liked it, but there was nothing we could do. Even if we had a toilet, where was the water to flush it? The only source of water in the community was a little stream that was almost dried up and highly contaminated.”

“But now, the fear of snake bites from defecating in the bush is checked off my worry list,” said Sunday Peter.

Tukuruwa is one of the 118 communities in Kwali LGA, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) that use to practice open defecation. But through a partnership with the Nigerian Government, with support from UNICEF and Japanese sanitation company Lixil, it is now one of 77 communities in Kwali LGA that is proudly open defecation-free (ODF).

Out of 64 households in Tukuruwa community, 61 households now have safe toilets with handwashing facilities. Before, only two households in the entire community had toilets. The community made a full commitment in June 2021 to be 100 per cent open defecation-free by the end-November 2021.

Youths and community leaders helped make the transition possible by promoting ending open defecation and supporting households with toilet building.

“Before, we used to walk around so carefully. We walked almost on tip toes, because you could just step on poop if you are you were not careful. I used to be very concerned whenever I see a crawling baby or a child playing on the ground – knowing that the child is likely to be ingest poop, because it was littered all around us,” said Sadiya Mikalu, a 30-year-old mother of three and women’s leader in her community.

A woman washing her hands
Sadiya washing her hands

“When we were told about the impact of open defecation on our health, I took it very seriously because I saw how children and adults used to have diarrhea and typhoid so often. I saw this as our chance to improve our health – they gave us free toilet pans and brought a borehole to our community,” said Sadiya Mikalu.

“I went to every house in my village and told all the women and children the dangers of what we were doing. Not everyone accepted what I was saying initially, but as I kept speaking with them, they gradually began to change their minds, and I am so happy that open defecation is now a thing of the past here,” said Sadiya Mikalu.

“We are working hard, and this partnership with UNICEF is helping to bring us a step closer to achieving our mandate of Nigeria becoming open defecation-free by 2025,” said Chizoma Opara, the National Coordinator of the Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet campaign.

“UNICEF has been a close partner to us over the years. This programme, which is providing rural communities with safe toilet pans, is a step in the right direction. The pans have been generously donated by Lixil, the firm that manufactures them. We are now optimistic that our goal of achieving an open defecation-free Nigeria by 2025 is possible,” said Chizoma Opara.