Monday, October 5, 2015

Collective efforts to stop open defecation in villages

Afonso Salsinha Trindade (56) and his family happy with their newly built latrine. 
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
Afonso Salsinha Trindade (56) lives in the mountainous village in Matata suco of Ermera sub-district with his family. The village is one of the sucos (village) of Ermera recently declared as open defecation free. 
“My family has been using a pit latrine since 2003, yet I never felt comfortable as majority of my neighbors were still practicing open defecation. Now things have changed and suco Matata is open defecation free,” says Afonso.

“The pit latrine gets full every four to five years and I have to dig a new pit in a new location though it does not cost any money. Digging a pit was the most difficult part, but my husband with the help of my sons managed to do it in two days,” says Silvia, wife of Afonso.

Working together
In 2009, UNICEF provided support to Matata suco to build latrines for 195 out of 215 households with subsidized materials. “According to a latrine utilization survey 2013 by the Ministry of Health over 70 per cent of latrines were in usable condition, but merely 18 per cent families’ reported that they are always using the latrines. The District Public Health Officer of Ermera was surprised by this resulted and proposed UNICEF to support the Suco Matata to improve the latrine utilization rate,” says Rodolfo Pereira, WASH Officer of UNICEF who was involve in implementation of the project since the beginning.

“The issue was more related to behavior and practice, than the supply. In consultation with the Suco Chief, we organized meetings with the community members explaining how the fecal materials contaminated water and food and was causing health problems. The meeting lead to form a Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS) group,” Rodolfo continues.

Initiating change
“After discussions we realized that we were eating our shit by defecating in the bush and not washing our hands with soap after using the toilet”, says Gil Lobato Pereira, Suco Leader. “In the past, many families did not use the latrine due to a lack of water for flushing the toilet, and we used to go to the toilet in the bush. Things have started changing after the meeting held in last year.  Within a period of three months 20 households that did not have a latrine built their latrine and started using them. The biggest achievement was in hand washing with soap as all 215 households built or designated a place for hand washing and water and soap was available for use.”
Community members are sharing their experiences among the audiences in a public meeting.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
“By declaring our suco an open defecation free area, I and our four aldeia xefes (chief of a designated area) made a commitment to continually motivate people for keeping our villages open defecation free forever,” confirms Gil, the Suco Chief who played an active role in promoting CLTS activities.

“ There was a time when people used to feel offended about using word ‘Tee’(faeces), discussing faeco-oral route and ingesting faeces. With CLTS intervention, people are now discussing these challenges more openly,” says Gilberto Rodrigues, the Director of NGO HIM, implementing partner of UNICEF for CLTS intervention in Ermera.

Sharing responsibilities
Several families have installed a rainwater collection tank to use the water for toilets and hand washing. In addition, communities have also initiated a village law (Tarabandu) in their suco that any family building permanent house must include a permanent toilet in their yard. If not, the suco will impose a penalty on the family,” says proudly the xefe suco Pereira.
Two of the five sub-districts -Railaco and Ermera Villa- in the Ermera district
declared as open defecation free.  ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
“Communities should collectively take the lead to make their villages open defecation free. Even the families that have and use latrines are not safe if their neighbors are practicing open defecation as the pigs, dogs and flies have no boundaries and they contaminate food and water with Tee (faeces in local language),” says Joni Alves, the District Public Health Officer while addressing the meeting with the villagers. 

“CLTS is not about building latrines but about stopping open defecation and washing hands with soap at critical times so that we don’t ingest our won Tee,’” reiterates Joni while interacting with community members.

Changing practice
“Children of Matata have immensely benefited from CLTS programme. Now they have toilet and hand washing facilities in their school but they also enjoy same and comforts in their homes. Since the beginning of the CLTS activity in our sub-district in 2012, the intestinal diseases among children have gone down, fewer number of children come to clinic for diarrhoea complains,” says Antonio de Deus, the chief of Community Health Centre of Railaco Sub-district, Ermera.
“In our family everybody uses the toilet and wash their hands with soap after using toilet”,
says Bendizela Fransisca, a 10-year old 4th grade student. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
“In our family everybody uses the toilet and wash their hands with soap after using toilet,” says Bendizela Fransisca, a 10-year old 4th grade student. “In school, teachers teach us on the importance of hand washing with soap after using the toilet, and at home my mother is very particular about it. We have a locally made hand washing stand near the toilet and it is very convenient for me to wash hands,” confirms Bendizela on her way out from the toilet.

In partnership with government and local NGO, UNICEF provides support to the Ermera district in scaling up CLTS. Out of 52 sucos, 30 are now open defecation free. “It is a great achievement that two of the five sub-districts -Railaco and Ermera Villa- in the Ermera district are verified as open defecation free. So we should organize a sub-district ODF ceremony as well. By celebrating this achievement we can motivate other sub-districts to accelerate the CLTS process in their areas,” says Joni with passion.

By Ramesh Bhusal, Chief WASH Section

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