By Doreen Matonga
Kasungu, Malawi: The winding road to Chimpololo Village in Kasungu District can easily mislead someone as to what they will see. The meandering earth road through markets and a primary school is a busy site, but one thing that stands out in this community is how clean it is and the community members are still basking in the glory of its open defecation free status.
Chimpololo Village, with about 132 households, is among the communities that have maintained their Open Defecation Free (ODF) status and good hygiene and sanitation practices since being declared ODF in 2016.
Group Village Head Chimpololo — with 4 chiefs under him — was among the leaders that joined Senior Traditional Authority (TA) Mphomwa at an ODF declaration ceremony where three TAs from Kasungu had their areas declared ODF.
A walk through Chimpololo Village confirms this status. Every household has a well-built latrine and is roofed with either grass or iron sheets (for those who can afford). The black soil smeared shiny floors are impermeable with a drop-hole cover in all the latrines visited. Outside the latrines are tippy tap hand washing facilities with water and soap while a few had ash which is used as a substitute for soap in poorer households.
Mobilizing the community to achieve ODF
With funding from the EU, UNICEF supported the Kasungu District Health office to trigger the community using the Community Led Total Sanitation Approach (CLTS). Through the triggering, a process of awareness on water, sanitation and hygiene behaviours; the community came to realise that they were a conduit for spreading diseases since the community had very few toilet facilities and majority of the people were either sharing the available toilets or practising open defecation in the nearby thickets.
In May 2016, the Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) for the area, Wezi Gausi together with her fellow HSAs from the Kasungu District Health Office mobilized the community to realise the sanitation and hygiene situation in their areas and collectively decide on their future. At the end of the triggering session the community developed an action plan and by the end of June 2016, every household had a latrine and a hand washing facility. The community also realised that they needed to treat their drinking water before consumption and each of the households now have a trash disposal site. Although the community has achieved the ODF status, the hygiene and sanitation committee in the village remains active working together with the local leaders doing household visits to ensure households are practising good hygiene practises and there is no slippage back to open defecation. The community also has a drama group which continues to remind people of the importance of good sanitation and hygiene practises during community meetings.
Since the area was declared ODF is 2016, it is a common sight to see both the young and the old wash hands with soap after visiting the toilet. This practice and other improved sanitation and hygiene practices have led to an influx of people from across the country visiting this community to learn how they managed to achieve ODF within a short time but also how they are sustaining the behaviour and the new norms acquired. Recently the village through the district Health Office hosted three TA’s from Thyolo District. The visitors toured Chimpololo village to see what the chiefs do and how the chiefs support the community to sustain ODF status. This is in the wake of some communities slipping back to open defecation in some districts.
Motivation towards good hygiene and sanitation practices
According to Group Village Head (GVH) Chimpololo, the community knows the ugly face of Cholera which hit a nearby village some years ago and left one person dead.
“We decided to utilize and learn from every opportunity because every time we had diarrhoea we were scared that it could be the case that happened in a nearby community some years ago, however we did not know the direct connection of open defecation, treatment of water and increase in diarrhoea cases,” says GVH Chimpololo.
“Through the support of the Health Office, the people here understand that diarrhoea is preventable through good sanitation practices and handwashing with soap. Since water is still a challenge in our community, our women boil water or treat it to ensure it is safe for use. We want to continue on that path to ensure everyone is safe from diseases and has good health.”
Kasungu District Health Office and the health surveillance assistant (has) for the area Wezi Gausi, are happy with the progress made by the community.
“This is one of the communities in Sub Traditional Authority Mphomwa that achieved open defecation free (ODF) very quickly. The repeated cases of diarrhoea in the past years motivated the people to change very quickly,” says Gausi.
Mary Zimba’s household was one of the early adopters of good hygiene practices in the village. Through the meetings and the interaction with the has, she together with a majority of the households understand that handwashing with soap is a simple mechanism for the prevention of diarrhoea and other diseases. Mary like the rest of the community members in Chimpololo have vowed to wash their hands with soap to prevent diseases and ensure everyone in the village practises good sanitation and hygiene.
The community has also gone a step further to ensure their children practise handwashing with soap at home and do the same at school. According to GHV Chimpololo, they emphasise to the children and teachers during community meetings of the importance of having handwashing facilities with water and soap at all times at the school.
UNICEF — through its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme with support from the European Union is implementing a water, sanitation and hygiene project in 15 districts in Malawi, in support of the SDG goals. Kasungu District is among those districts where UNICEF is working with the District Health Office and other NGOs to ensure improved and equitable access to water, sanitation and improved hygiene practices.
Armed with the recognition from various sectors of the society, GVH Chimpololo and his community are determined to maintain the ODF status. They want to be a model village and a learning ground for others who want to adopt improved behaviors and practices in water, sanitation and hygiene.