What an open defecation free community declaration means for a woman with disability
Sylvia Ayoo's story
For 36 years Sylvia Ayoo had never used a toilet facility. Like most members of Kesimen Village in Kotido District, Uganda, she used the nearby bushes to ease herself.
Born with paraplegia, a disabling medical condition that paralyzed her legs, Ayoo who gets around by crawling on her hands sometimes wounded herself as she went into the bushes to ease herself.
“Thorns in the bushes used to pierce me and I constantly came into contact with other people’s feaces but I had nothing to do because I too needed to ease myself,” said the single mother of one.
In June 2020, when a cholera outbreak struck the village, many people got ill, and one person died. The community members were gripped with fear.
During that uncertain time, a team from the Institute for Cooperation and Development (C&D) visited the village.
The institute team conducted a series of dialogues with the community members on the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation, thanks to funding from the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
During the dialogues, Ayoo learnt about the disadvantages of open defecation as well as the hygiene related diseases like cholera and diarrhoea.
“I got interested and asked myself, if other people are going to have latrines and for me, I don’t have, it means I will be the one to always suffer from diarrhoea and all those diseases related to unsafe disposal of feaces,”
The information she received during the dialogues empowered and motivated the thirty six-year-old mother of one to request the community members to support her in constructing a pit latrine for herself.
“The community members dug for me the pit, raised the latrine structure and helped me to thatch it. I then did the mudding of the walls by myself,” Ayoo said with a coy smile.
Since June 2021, Ayoo has been using and maintaining her latrine.
“I know that my latrine needs to be properly maintained and so when it gets full, I will mobilize the community again to dig for me another one,”
Other lessons Ayoo learned from the dialogues included the importance of practicing personal hygiene such as bathing, brushing teeth, hand washing with soap after visiting a latrine and before eating, and keeping her hair and nails short.
“Before the sensitization, I would wake up in the morning, not brush teeth nor wash my face. I would just go and do other things until when I would feel my body itching. That is when I would bathe.”
Ayoo’s message to other disabled people living in areas practicing open defecation is that they need to follow her example and request community members for assistance to construct them latrines.
In August 2021 when Kotido District Local Government declared Kesimen Village an open defecation-free community, Ayoo was ecstatic.
“I am happy that my village was declared open defecation-free and I advise people with disability to stop defecating anywhere because in their state, it will expose them to a lot of germs and diseases.”