Celebrating communities free of defecation in the Karamoja sub-region

“The approach of using children from WASH clubs was very effective in bringing change."

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye
water, sanitation, hygiene, open defecation free, latrines, hand washing
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Adriko
27 August 2020

Six months ago, the smell of faeces in Nakanikam village in Matany sub-county was overpowering. The whole village was littered with faeces as flies swarmed around the area. There was no safe place to just sit for a while. To the community members, this was normal behaviour, and no one cared about the situation, not even the leaders. None of the households in this village had a latrine or a handwashing facility, which are basic must-haves for good hygiene and sanitation. 

More still, community members had no knowledge about proper sanitation and hygiene practices. To them, defecating in the bush, near water sources, or in the compound was normal behaviour. No one could relate this highly unhygienic practice to the rampant hygiene-related illnesses like diarrhoea that affected children and adults alike. 

Today, the situation is different. In February 2020, Nakanikum village was declared open defecation free. The journey and achievements celebrated by the communities begun when UNICEF, through its implementing partner, Cooperation and Development (C&D), and with financial assistance from Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), introduced the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools programme in the Karamoja sub-region in 2019. The WASH programme provides 12 secondary schools and 88 primary schools with drainable gender-sensitive, disability friendly latrines for both girls and boys complete with washrooms, solar-powered piped water system, communal handwashing facilities and hygiene education. 

water, sanitation, hygiene, open defecation free, latrines, hand washing
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Adriko

How do communities benefit from the WASH in schools programme?

According to the KOICA-funded WASH in schools programme design, communities surrounding the recipient schools are also targeted, with the aim of improving their hygiene and sanitation practices too. 

John Bosco Kimuli-Sempala, UNICEF WASH Specialist, notes that when sanitation practices and facilities for communities around schools are poor, it negatively impacts sanitation in schools as communities will misuse school facilities. 

That is how Nakanikam village, close to Loodoi Primary School, is today celebrating the great milestone of being open defecation free, thanks to the support extended from the school WASH programme. 

Nakanikam and two other villages in Napak District were identified as needing urgent intervention in 2019. Through the village WASH committee, households were sensitized about the dangers of open defecation and the benefits of good hygiene and sanitation practices. 

Led by the Local Council Chairman, the WASH committee embarked on sensitization drives that raised awareness among communities about how defecating outside was bad and that it meant they were eating their faeces, which led to diseases. A process they call triggering. Two weeks into the campaign, committee members led by example and quickly started digging latrines, but the sensitization drives didn’t stop. They needed more households to join the campaign. 

To amplify the campaign, members of school WASH clubs, which are supported by UNICEF, also joined the sensitization drives. Through their outreach activities, they disseminated hygiene and sanitation messages using songs, poems, drama skits and door-to-door visits. The communities were moved.

“The approach of using children from WASH clubs was very effective in bringing change. The training of the young ones on sanitation and hygiene good practices really paid off,”

Michael Lokee, Programme Officer at C&D.
water, sanitation, hygiene, open defecation free, latrines, hand washing
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Adriko

Today, the village has no faeces and all its 27 households have latrines as well as handwashing stations, rubbish pits, drying racks, lines for drying clothes and bathing shelters. Their compounds are kept clean and latrines have covers to keep the flies away.

A visit to Alice Kakuro’s home tells it all. Together with her two little girls, she sweeps her compound in the mid-morning. Clean plates, cups and saucepans are spread on a well-made drying rack. There is no smell of faeces anywhere. The place is clean, and the household members are clean too. Alice, also a WASH committee member in Nakanikam village, is one of those community members that took lead in changing her home environment to improve the health of her family. No wonder her home is one of the model homes in the village. 

She later shares that before the WASH programme was extended to her village, none of her family members liked to bathe – taking a bath was rare. “We were itching all the time,” she says. She continues to share that her home was very dirty and just like the entire village, faeces were littered everywhere. 

“Worse still, we kept our eating utensils on the ground and when the chickens nibbled on the human faeces, they drunk from our utensils, and we spread our clothes to dry on the ground where we defecated. Flies dropped on our food as we ate, and they carried diseases,” she adds. 

Alice is one of the leaders whose household started digging a latrine, complete with a locally made handwashing facility. Together with her husband and the children, they have also constructed the drying rack and bathing shelter. 

water, sanitation, hygiene, open defecation free, latrines, hand washing
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Adriko

The practice of handwashing is also another component of the WASH programme that has been instilled in the communities. Those without soap have been advised to use ash, and many are doing so. Alice has passed the messages down to her children and occasionally demonstrates to the younger ones how and when to wash their hands. 

Despite the community declared open defecation free, the Nakanikam WASH committee has not stopped the campaign. They are more than determined to support neighbouring villages to obtain the same status. 

Alice encourages other villages to embrace proper sanitation and hygiene practices, as this chases away diseases. “I have seen this in my home, so I know it is true. By the way, if you put faeces in the latrine, you don’t get diseases,” Alice reminds us.

To ensure the village doesn’t lose the gains it has made, the local leaders conduct regular household checks to ensure they are still on track. For those with latrines that are almost full, new ones are constructed. But most importantly, to ensure sustainability, government programmes have been tagged to proper hygiene and sanitation within households. 

Nakanikam village is indeed leading by example through its WASH campaign, which they have now nicknamed ‘Angaleu Inges Ankiya’ (Health is life).