Esther Lomma, the adolescent WASH ambassador from Karamoja helping communities change for the better
Changing one village at a time
Loodoi Primary School boosts of a very vibrant and effective water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) club. The club has clear roles and responsibilities since it was established with support from Cooperation and Development, UNICEF implementing partner for the WASH in schools programme in Karamoja schools, and financial support from the Korean International Cooperation (KOICA). The WASH club members supervise the rest of the pupils to maintain the general cleanliness of schoolchildren as well as the classrooms and other areas of the school. They also encourage pupils to wash their hands with soap and water, and conduct hygiene checkups of all pupils during school parades. The members have also acquired lifeskills such as making reusable sanitary pads and liquid soap after they were trained by Cooperation and Development, and they pass on these skills to their fellow pupils during scheduled sessions.
Additionally, the club members traverse nearby villages to sensitize communities on good hygiene and sanitation practices. This is part of their mandate. In 2019, the school WASH club members, together with their patrons, visited Nakaminkama, a nearby village, and realized that all the households did not have latrines or other hygiene and sanitation facilities. Through songs, poems, and drama skits, the members organized community sensitization drives. The communities listened in, and led by their leaders, they slowly adopted good hygiene and sanitation practices.
“It was not easy because the communities were used to their unhygienic practices. However, I encouraged them to listen to the children’s messages,” said Michael Kodet, the local chairman in Nakaminkam.
Progress was slow at first. To further bolster their efforts, the WASH club members went door to door to accelerate results, prompting community members to make positive changes to their attitudes and behaviour. The efforts yielded fruit, and today, all households in Nakaminkam have latrines, handwashing facilities and clean compounds. The village was declared open defecation free in February 2020.
To ensure the villages keep on track, the club members and the village water committee carry out monitoring visits. Esther Lomma, who lives in the village and is a Primary 7 pupil in Loodoi Primary School, is part of the monitoring team. Today she moves with the Local Council Chair and other village water committee members from one household to another. When she finishes school, Esther wants to become a medical doctor to teach people how to protect themselves from getting sick, especially from bad hygiene and sanitation practices.
Esther Lomma and members of the village WASH committee arrive at one of the households on her monitoring roster of the day. Schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so she makes time to visit households in her community to monitor their hygiene and sanitation condition. This is part of her work as a WASH club member. “We check the general cleanliness of the house, latrines, bathing shelter, and compound. If I find anything wrong, I tell them to do it right.”
Esther and the other team members are greeted by Alice Kakuro, a mother of 10 children. She is one of the first villagers that dug latrines when she heard about the benefits of good sanitation and hygiene from the WASH club members. Her compound is swept clean and her home is pristine.
Unlike in the past when cups, plates and cooking utensils lay on the ground, dirty and covered by flies, today, Alice has a drying rack where clean utensils are put to dry. Esther, the WASH ambassador, checks the drying rack and the utensils, commending Alice for a great job.
The next stop is the latrine. Alice leads the monitoring team there; they check the surroundings, and the locally made handwashing facility is situated right next to the latrine. The team peeps inside to check if the latrine has a cover. This is a requirement. “The latrine has to have a cover to keep the flies away,” stresses Esther. “When we first visited the homes, we taught people how to use latrines and the importance of latrines.”
Esther enters the latrine to check if the latrine is properly used. She mentions that many households have latrines that are almost filling up. For these, we advise them to dig a new one. We don’t wait for them to fill up because if the latrine is full, the members will go back to use the bush,” Esther says. “Having a latrine in a home is a very good thing because it prevents diseases. If faeces are everywhere, there are flies everywhere. You cannot be happy, and you cannot be healthy.”
“Is there water in the handwashing facility? Please show us and demonstrate how you use it,” Esther asks. Alice obliges. Water is available, so Alice steps on the peddle to get the water flowing. With wet hands she uses some ash as soap to wash her hands clean. The communities have been advised to use ash if they don’t have soap. “When I go to a home where a handwashing facility is not there, I sit down and help them make it. We were taught in our club to make these tippy taps (locally made handwashing facilities).”
Esther shows Alice how to wash hands effectively as Alice’s children look on. Under the nails, palms and back of the hands. They watch attentively.
What about the bathing shelter? This is another component that the households have been advised to have. Alice has one but they advise her to keep it clean by making sure the water drains well. “Collect some stones so the water doesn’t stagnate in one place,” Esther advises. “Stagnant water breeds mosquitoes,” she shares.
As they move around the home, Esther is worried by the bush behind the house. She immediately advises Allice to cut the bushes as they breed mosquitoes and hide snakes that could endanger the family. She pays attention to everything that compromises the family’s health.
The final stop is the drying line where Alice has spread children’s clothes and beddings. Esther commends her for using the line and reminds her not to spread clothes on the ground that could have germs and insects.
Alice’s home is clean and still on track. She has kept up the good hygiene and sanitation practices that she adopted from the club members. She is praised for a job well done, and the team leaves for the next household.
Alice is reminded to spread her knowledge and experience with friends and family in other villages that have not yet been reached with the messages.