Saturday, December 18, 2010

Community-Led Total Sanitation

*A word to the reader: In this entry, I talk about sanitation, and some of the details may not be the best for reading just before lunch?

This week ACF has been hosting a week-long workshop on Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) for staff and local government. CLTS is a method developed to address poor sanitation, specifically targeted at ending open defecation. The method was developed in 1999 by Dr. Kamal Kar in Bangladesh as a hands-off intervention to trigger shame, disgust and action by communities through the realization of the role of open defecation in their water sources, food, and communities. It has since been implemented in countries throughout the world, including recent introduction in Uganda and other East African countries.

We had hired an external consultant to come and facilitate the training, and 26 of us met in Lira. The first two days introduced us all to CLTS: what it is, where and when it was developed, and the fundamentals of the approach. Ultimately, CLTS is about facilitating a process, and allowing a community to develop their own shame and disgust around their actions. It is about using crude words to raise awareness – we found out the local word for shit is “cet” (chet), and we told by the facilitators that we must use this word throughout the session!

The third day of the workshop, we traveled to two villages in Otuke District, Ogor and Atat. After the 3-hour trip down dusty dirt roads, we were concerned with time – we had left at 8:00, but to not break security rules, we would have to depart the village by 3:00 – and we still had to mobilize the community! Much to our surprise, when we pulled in to Ogor, more than 140 children and adults sat under the shade of a mango tree awaiting our arrival. No mobilization necessary, let’s get to work!

After the customary rapport building and introductions, the first step is developing a village map. Roads, houses, important landmarks such as schools and churches are all placed on the ground using either colored paper or locally available materials (leaves, etc). Then, those households with a latrine are indicated on the map. For those who do not have access to a latrine, the facilitators (us) ask bluntly, “Where did you shit this morning?” This was followed by laughter and embarrassment. The first brave participant was an old man, bent over at the waist as he energetically grabbed a fistful of yellow powder and dropped it on the map next to his home. Slowly, participants started to stand up; the map slowly became more and more yellow.

Then came the fun part. We asked a few members if we could take a walk around their village, maybe see some of these places people say they defecate. I went with the children’s group, who enthusiastically ran into the bush to show us where they had told us most in the village go. It didn’t take long before we found a specimen. And then another, and another. With the goal of invoking disgust, we stayed there, urging the children to come closer, talking about feces, smelling it, poking it with a stick, and finally taking it back to the community with us. We asked the children what happens to this cet. A few brave ones stood and told us the rain washes it away. “Well, where does that rain water go?” “It goes down there into that valley,” they said pointing beyond our group. “And where again do you collect your drinking water?” As they began to answer, one could see in their eyes the realization. The children were a little more than disgusted.

After our group walked back to the village center, we arranged ourselves back under the tree. With the waste sitting proudly in the middle of our circle, we offered a bottle of mineral water to one of the children in the group. After he was satisfied, we opened another bottle, dipped a stick in the cet, and mixed it into the fresh water. We shook the bottle and offered it to any of the children. All recoiled in fear. “But you drink that spring water, and you told us the cet goes there when it rains, why is this any different?” The same exercise from the adult group saw answers such as, “Well, we saw you put the cet in the water.” Interesting justification.

Next, we placed a banana on the ground next to the cet. As we stood there talking through the cet-in-the-bottle exercise, flies soon found both the banana and the cet, and traveled easily and freely between the two. “Who wants to eat this banana?” Again, no volunteers. The adults said that the smell contaminated the banana, and the flies were traveling between both. As women, children and men scrunched their noses in disgust and argued about what to do, someone said, “Don’t worry, there are two types of flies in the world, those that sit on feces, and those that sit on food.”

Discussions began stirring within the crowd, as people stared appalled at their realizations. At the end of our time there, the adults and children has created their own action plans – to begin construction of latrines immediately, and within two months, have all households at least using a latrine, to identify those still defecating in the open and target them (some even mentioned arresting them), and ultimately be able to declare their community Open Defecation Free. After the action plans were decided, we asked the group to pose for a “Shit Eater’s Photo”. All disagreed vehemently! And then we asked to take a picture of a community committed to Open Defecation Free, and all gladly raised their hands.

While the whole process seems a bit disgusting, that’s the point, isn’t it? And from the results we are seeing worldwide through CLTS, it seems to be working.

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