One village at a time
UN Volunteers empower communities to tackle open defecation in Uganda
Open defecation and poor hygiene practices are among the leading causes of child deaths, malnutrition and stunting and can have irreversible negative effects on cognitive development of a child. Despite the negative consequences, over 670 million people continue to practice open defecation and an estimated 367 million children attend a school with no sanitation facility at all, according to UNICEF and WHO (2020) . Contamination of the environment with faecal matter directly affects the quality of air, ground water and food that people consume. Therefore, the elimination of open defecation is paramount in improving health, nutrition, and productivity of a developing country like Uganda. However, to celebrate clean and defecation free environments, concerted efforts are required with the government taking lead.
Every child, no matter where and to whom they are born deserves to live in a safe and healthy environment, free from faecal contamination. We all have the responsibility to create this safe and healthy environment. Universal access to WASH is a key gateway to realizing this fundamental right.
Dominic Lomongin Aballa a Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Officer with UNICEF Uganda, based in the Mbarara regional office supports UNICEF’s commitment towards achieving universal and sustainable water and sanitation services with a focus on reducing inequality, especially for the most vulnerable children, in times of both stability and crisis.
Working closely with other partners, UNICEF strives to strengthen local government systems to plan, monitor and coordinate WASH service delivery which is key to achieving these ambitious goals.
Through supported WASH related activities, communities analyse their sanitation and hygiene practices and encouraged to identify local solutions that will eliminate open defecation and move towards improved sanitation. This is done through the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), an approach which triggers community-wide behaviour change following a facilitated self-analysis of prevalent sanitation and hygiene practices.
“Working with established local government structures enables us to reach the very last person. At the sub-county, we have Health Assistants while at the village level community-based volunteers called Village Health Teams (VHTs) support the day-to-day monitoring of WASH services in the community. They are supported at the community level by another layer of volunteers known as natural leaders who emerge during the CLTS process to take lead on following up on agreed upon community actions,”
Through these interventions, a total of 144 villages in Isingiro, Kamwenge and Kikuube districts, Western sub-region, were certified open defecation free (ODF) in 2021. In the same year, more than 15,000 people gained access to basic sanitation services while a further 56,880 and 155,673 people were reached with sufficient water and critical WASH supplies (including hygiene items) respectively.
Aballa also supports UNICEF’s WASH in institutions (schools and healthcare facilities) interventions where local government and heads of the institutions ensure proper operation and maintenance of the WASH facilities provided.
As UNICEF continues to create safe and clean environments for children to grow and strive, government leadership and community ownership remain critical in creating sustainable solutions. The engagement of local government structures also supports rapid scale up of interventions ensuring no one is left behind a key principle in the Sustainable Development Goal agenda.
“Working as a volunteer has showed me that even the contribution of one person can make a difference to the health and wellbeing of children and women. I am motivated each passing day to make a difference. The world needs more inspiration,"