Memories of Gogo Maness Gilimoti are still fresh for 30-year-old Mitress Januwale of Chikumkuyu Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mazengera in Lilongwe.
The old woman died in 2004 after a short illness. However, the family suspected that the gogo had been bewitched.
“At that time our family was involved in a land wrangle with another family. Therefore, when my grandmother died, all fingers pointed at that family as having bewitched her,” says Januwale.
Furthermore, a relation bought an ox-cart soon after the death hence they also suspected he bewitched the old woman to buy that ox-cart.
However, it was discovered that Gilimoti had died of cholera because of poor hygiene in the household. At that time, the household had no toilet and family members were defecating in a nearby bush. Out of 31 families in the village, only three had toilets.
In 2010, World Vision Malawi (WVM) started a water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) programme in its Nkhoma-Chilenje Programme Area in which Chikumkuyu Village is located.
The project was aimed at preventing cholera in the area by promoting sanitation. This is when Januwale realised that the family could have prevented the death of Gilimoti if they had not been practising open defecation.
Open defecation, a term widely used in Wash literature in developing countries, causes public health problems in areas where people defecate in fields, urban parks, rivers and open trenches in close proximity to the living space of others.
Eliminating open defecation is the main aim of improving access to sanitation worldwide and is a proposed indicator for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted in September 2015 to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
WVM Wash food officer Eunice Nafere says the organisation has successfully educated people in the area, not only to have toilets but also to change their mindset on sanitation issues. Nafere says some communities believed that adults and children should not share toilets. This resulted in children defecating in the bush.
“The need for behavioural change is critical in addition to the provision of toilets. A preference for open defecation behaviour may be due to traditional cultural practices or lack of access to toilets, or both,” says Nafere.
About one billion people, which is 15 percent of the global population, practice open defecation. Meanwhile, the Malawi Government is committed to providing adequate, reliable and sustainable sanitation and hygiene promotion services to people to attain its vision of ensuring sanitation for all in Malawi.
WVM encourages people to wash their hands with soap after using a toilet, before handling or eating food, and after changing nappies. Furthermore, WVM in collaboration with the health and water sectors in Lilongwe, came up with the idea of a clean village competition that not only achieves open defecation-free communities but also motivates the winning villages.
According to WVM acting manager Chrispin Chinunda, clan village competition involves verification of the villages that enter into the competition by the village health and water point committees. This is done to establish an element of ownership, leadership and power in the committees that Wash is working with at community level.
“The data is analysed by health surveillance assistants and the district coordinating team whereby the team plans to verify the results that have been brought forward on the ground. After the verification exercise, the team meets again to select which villages have won. Certificates and gifts are presented to the villages that have done well in the competition,” says Chinunda.
Januwale’s village was one of the winning villages this year.
“I’m happy that my village has managed to end open defecation,” Januwale says.
Statistics show that since the launch of clean village competitions in 2012, there has been a decrease in diarrhoea cases.
Presentation of gifts such as buckets to winning villages motivates other communities, thereby increasing the number of villages entering the competition each year.
In 2012, 12 villages entered the competition and three became open defecation-free communities. In 2015, 203 villages entered the competition and 171 were declared open defecation-free.
Statistics show that about 20 520 people out of 25 000 in Nkhoma-Chilenje area in the district are practising improved sanitation and hygiene.
However, Nafere says the major challenge the project faces is the use of vernacular words for defeacation. She says the Chichewa equivalent of the word does not please some people, especially chiefs, when spoken in public. But Nafere says as an organisation, they just have to use the words so that the community can easily get the message. n