By Doreen Matonga
Located right at the Nsolo border with Mozambique, Billy village is abuzz with business activities. The long winding road has all manner of people both young and old coming in and out of the two countries. Separated by just a plunk of wood the border post sees many Mozambicans frequenting this part of Mchinji as traders seek to buy farm produce from the Malawian farmers.
But although Billy village is a centre of this movement, one thing has been embraced by the community — whoever walks into their community has to ensure they practise good sanitation and hygiene.
Mercy Kachapila, Health Surveillance Assistance (HSA) for the area has lived in the village long enough to understand the intricacies of cross border trading and the challenges it poses to sanitation and hygiene.
“We have on several occasions treated people from Mozambique with cholera at Kapanga Health Centre. We have hence ensured that our people understand good hygiene and improved sanitation so that they are not affected.” “We started a door to door campaign in the whole of TA Mabwvele to ensure everyone adopts good sanitation and hygiene practices as that is the only way we can prevent diarrhoeal cases,” says Mercy.
Through the door to door campaign, Mercy and fellow HSAs are the happiest people as they have managed to make Billy village an open defecation (ODF) free community.
One of the toilets in Billy Village, a good examples of good sanitation and hygiene practises UNICEF/Malawi/2017/Matonga
Sella Mikayeli, 21, is one of those whose house is very close to the border and has benefitted from the sanitation and hygiene campaign that was taking place in her area.
“We have had the HSAs and the sanitation and hygiene committee visit us every week. They explained on the benefits of having a latrine, a handwashing facility, a bathing shelter as well as how to treat our water and other good hygiene practises,” says Sella. Through theese constant meetings with the sanitation committee, Sella’s home is among the 27 households in Billy Village that have embraced good sanitation and hygiene as a way of life.
“We have a well-kept latrine and it also has a handwashing facility outside. My husband buys soap to ensure that we all wash our hands well after using the latrine,” she says.
However Sella has not only benefitted on improved sanitation, the group has also taught her how good sanitation links with good nutrition. “They have also taught us that we may have good food but if we don’t wash our hands before preparing food or before eating we can easily spread the germs. We have also learnt personal hygiene as well as keeping the environment clean,” she says with full conviction on how sanitation and good hygiene practices have changed her community.
In order to ensure their community maintains its open defecation free status the community has decided to offer their latrines to the traders to use as they explore a more sustainable option of having a latrine near the border to allow visitors to use.
Catherine Giliford is one of the members of the village sanitation and hygiene committee. Although she is happy that the village has achieved an ODF status, there is still more work to be done. “We want to ensure that even the people that cross the border to seek medical attention here understand good sanitation practices because that will be the only way they will also practise good sanitation once they come here. To ensure this is possible the committee regularly conducts health talks near the border to ensure that traders coming into and out of Malawi get the message on the importance of good sanitation and hygiene.
UNICEF with support from the European Union is implementing a water, sanitation and hygiene project in 15 districts in Malawi, in support of the MDG (now SDG) goals. Mchinji district is among those districts where UNICEF is working with the District Health Office to ensure improved and equitable access to water and sanitation and improved hygiene practices.
Taking a walk round Billy village shows both the young and the old getting out of the latrine and making a stop at the handwashing facility, a good sign that the community understands the importance of good hygiene especially handwashing.