From bush to bathroom

How Marol Aken village ended open defecation

Lominsuk Robert
A woman standing together with her son
09 October 2020

Marol Aken, Northern Bahr El Ghazal State- The proof is running around Elizabeth Abuk’s feet. Her seven children are energetic and playful, a healthy sign. In fact, they are healthier now than they have been before, thanks to the small building outside their home. Who would have thought it could make such a difference?

“Before, we would go to the nearby bush to do the needful. It was normal and no shame about it,” Elizabeth explains.

54 families ‘going’ in the bush, makes a lot of feces around the village which is also the children’s playground. During the rainy season, the heavy rain makes the ground soft and feces are mixing with the water and moves where the water is going, contaminating water sources and additional ground- making children sick.

“People would also get bitten by snakes when defecating in the bush,” Elizabeth remembers.

That has all changed after UNICEF and the Mentor initiative started awareness raising on the importance of using latrines. Community influencers such as Elizabeth were identified by the village elders and then educated on the many benefits of ending open defecation. The volunteers would then move around in the village raising awareness and encouraging people to make latrines.

“When we realized how bad open defecation was for our families, we were motivated to do something about the situation.”

Elizabeth and her husband constructed a basic latrine for their family to create immediate change but built a new and better one when they had enough money. Elizabeth is making necklaces and other crafts which she is selling in the market and that helped get the necessary money for the improved bathroom.

A latrine tukul
This is Elizabeth's first latrine. Later she build a new and better one

She explains that they had other plans for the hard-earned savings, but when she understood the benefits of improved sanitation there was no doubt in her mind that it would be an investment worthwhile.

“My children no longer get diarrhea all the time like before.”

Elizabeth and the other volunteers in the village would also mobilize the energetic youth to help the vulnerable especially the elderly and the physically challenged by constructing latrines for them.

“When UNICEF and the Mentor Initiative showed us how feces end up in our water and our food, we as the community realized that we have to work together and also help those ones who can’t help themselves to have latrines. Now all the 54 families in the village have a latrine and they are using it.”

After the solid efforts from the volunteers, Marol Aken was declared open defecation free.

A woman making a necklace
Elizabeth is making money from necklaces and other crafts she is doing.

60 per cent of the population in South Sudan are still practicing open defecation, making many children and their families sick. UNICEF and partners are committed to improving sanitation in South Sudan by working with respected community leaders and influencers such as Elizabeth. 

“I want to thank UNICEF and Mentor Initiative for giving us an idea which will stay with us forever, this is more important than material things. And I want you to also reach out to other communities so that they may also benefit from the idea like ours did,” Elizabeth finishes.

These changes would not be possible without the support from UNICEF’s generous donors, including UKAid who is supporting the programme Elizabeth and her village benefitted from.