It takes a whole village

Kesimen’s journey to open defecation-free status

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye
ODF, open defecation free, UNICEF, KOICA, Uganda, open defecation free community declaration , disability, Korean International Cooperation Agency, Institute for Cooperation and Development (C&D), WASH, water, sanitation, hygiene in schools, communities, karamoja
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Abdul
11 October 2021

It took a Cholera outbreak, one death and scabies among children, for one village in Uganda to embrace good hygiene and sanitation practices, resulting in declaration of open defecation free status. 

Kesimen Village in Lokiteleabu Sub County, Kotido District begun its journey of change early 2021 through a UNICEF water, sanitation and hygiene programme in schools and neighbouring communities with funding from Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). 

According to the Institute for Cooperation and Development (C&D), UNICEF’s implementing partner at the fore front of the village sanitation campaign, the village was first subjected to triggering, as part of the community-total sanitation approach. Through this approach, Kesimen residents were shown the link between open defecation and rampant sanitation-based diseases, as the poorly disposed human waste bred flies which contaminated food and led to disease. The residents also were shown the link between scabies and poor personal hygiene _ as many residents did not bathe daily. Triggering did not only drive the point home but also pushed them to change.  

It takes willing leaders to eliminate open defecation 

In Kesimen, village leaders were identified to be role models. They led the process of digging and actual utilization of the latrines. Within no time the households followed the leaders’ example. To further inspire households, the local leaders supplied water containers, soap and small jerrycans used to construct tippy taps – locally made handwashing facilities placed at the entrance of the latrines. Persons with disabilities received support from fellow residents to construct their own latrines as a mark of collective responsibility towards a common goal. A visit to the home of the Local Council Chairman reveals a model home replete with all the components for a clean and safe environment, as a reflection of the transition from a place full of open defecation to a clean and habitable place for children to grow and thrive. 

hygiene, handwashing, cleanliness, children, KOICA, UNICEF, community total led sanitation, Institute of Cooperation and Development C&D, Karamoja, Kotido
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Abdul

Tackling cultural myths around latrine use 

One thing however, stood in the way of progress. In the Karamojong culture, adolescent girls and pregnant women are barred from using pit latrines out of a fear of failing to conceive in future or losing the baby while squatting. In addition, in-laws are not supposed to share latrines. These myths posed a great challenge especially since the campaign design provided for one latrine per household _ in-laws inclusive. It took an intensive sensitization drive to change the mindset of the community members and gain acceptance of practices leading to a clean and safe environment. The mindset change is evident. 

From only eight latrines in the entire village, Kesemin today has an 80 per cent latrine coverage. Eight out of ten all households have latrines complete with water, soap or ash to support effective handwashing. A quick walk through the village yields no traces of open defecation. 

“Even the young children know that every household must have and utilize a pit latrine,”

Paska Angom, the Parish Chief shares.

In addition to latrines with handwashing facilities, the households have also been supported to construct and utilize drying racks, bathing shelters as well as encouraged to observe basic sanitation and safe water use. 

During a community meeting, the village members celebrate the milestones of their efforts towards a clean and disease-free village. Through self -composed songs, members are reminded of the actions they need to take to keep themselves and community clean. They demonstrate handwashing, bathing, sweeping their compounds and burning rubbish in all their songs. 

“Olemasi angoreanut ka akalanyo alokalea ka alorerea yok – Let’s remove the dirtiness and laziness in our families and homes.”

To reinforce these gains, local leaders with support from C&D, monitor and provide additional guidance to ensure the households continue in the acquired practices. C&D is also utilizing the children and teacher change agents from the neighbouring schools benefiting from the KOICA WASH-in-Schools programme, to support continuous monitoring.

“Declaring the village as ODF is not enough. We shall continue monitoring the village and provide the necessary support to ensure that this progress prevails,”

Angom concludes.