In most villages, talk about witchcraft is common. Sudden death of someone actually leads to squabbles as people accuse each other of be-witching the deceased.
Mitress Januwale, of Mtanda village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mazengera in Lilongwe, recalls the sudden death of her grandmother Myness Gilimoti in 2004. Januawale and her relations strongly believed that Gilimoti’s death was an act of witchcraft.
“She vomited, felt cold, pugged for two days and later died. This happened before we decided to take her to Nkhoma Mission Hospital of the CCAP Synod for treatment,” Januwale recalls.
Adds Januwale, who was 18 years-old during Gilimoti’s death:
“She died suddenly and all fingers were pointing at our neighbours. We did not have peace of mind because of the circumstances leading to her death. What I remember is that she had frequent visits to the bush to relieve herself as we more often did.”
But was it really an act of witchcraft?
About one billion people or 15 percent of the global population even those in Malawi, practice open defecation, without knowing its consequences.
This is why World Vision and the Ministry of Health since 2004 continue to train communities to ensure that good water, sanitary and hygienic measures are followed to deal with waterborne diseases, including the number one killer Malaria.
World Vision is also empowering communities with basic skills and needs of owning locally made facilities that will champion water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects within its areas of operations.
With such initiatives, Januwale now admits that in the previous years, her family was prone to waterborne related deaths and Malaria as their house had no toilet and they used to defecate in the bush.
“Washing hands with soap before eating or after visiting bushes or using protected water was not a priority, but we are now a changed community,” says Januwale, adding that their surroundings usually had uncut grasses— home for the breeding of mosquitoes.
Januawale also acknowledges that her grandmother, Gilimoti might have died of waterborne diseases, and not witchcraft as initially suspected.
“From what I know about waterborne diseases, looking at how my grandmother died, I acknowledge that the death was not an act of witchcraft. The suffering she went through somehow shows that she succumbed to some waterborne diseases.”
Januwale, a mother of one, says her household now has a toilet, rubbish pit, clean surroundings and put in place sanitary tools such as soap and water within the vicinity of the toilet for use.
“We wash hands with soap, drink protected water, clean fruits before eating, among others to avoid a replica of what happened to our grandmother and other relations. If we had known we could not have lost her,” she states.
Esnart Kamutu 53, from Malindi in Village Head (VH) Kaphiri in Traditional Authority (T/A) Chitekwere in Malindi also shares the same story. She says, her family was also a staunch believer of the bush and not washing hands with soap.
“We felt pains, suffered from waterborne diseases without ceasing. My children were usual suspects in school in terms of absenteeism because of such diseases,” says Kamutu, adding that: “We used unhygienic utensils. This affected our family in terms of farming and other engagements.”
Kamutu says 1998 was the worst year as she suffered from abdominal pains, her children complained of continuous fever, a development that affected education. Kamutu says, when things got out of hand, they went to a nearby hospital only to be diagnosed of malaria and cholera.
“Since World Vision and Government came in with WASH projects, life has changed for the better as you can see that we have toilets and clean surroundings,” enthuses Kamutu, amid ululation from her colleagues.
For Area Sponsorship Analyst (ASA) for Nkhoma Thokozani Chibwana, World Vision seeks to protect communities from waterborne related deaths by ensuring that water, sanitation and hygiene measures are adhered to at all times.
“At stake is the life of children. Children are the future leaders and we can afford to subject them to poor hygiene and that is why we have different projects. We as World Vision believe in team work with our partners like government in dealing with the vice,” justifies Chibwana.
With such trainings and awareness, communities agree that the vice 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.
Clean Village Competitions
In a bid to ensure results, WASH project in Nkhoma-Chilenje Area Programs in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Water sectors have hinted that Clean Village Competition have helped improve sanitation.
The competition involves verification of the villages by 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.
The data is analysed by the Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) and the District Coordinating Team.
After verifying, the two teams meet again to select villages that have won and categories. Certification and presentation of gifts is done thereafter.
Benchmarks for the competition are the seven basic elements that sanitation and hygiene checks. They are availability of latrines, drop hole cover, hand washing facility, dish luck, kitchen, bathroom and rubbish pits.
Nkhoma-Chilenje AP is measured on 89 percent when it comes to sanitation and hygiene. It has a population of 20 000. In five group village heads (GVHs), there are about 15 000 people, and out of the figure, about 13 730 practice improved sanitation and hygiene.
Close to 122 villages in Nkhoma out of 140 are open defecation free, according to the environment authorities and World Vision due to clean village competitions.
“These activities come at a time when the issue of eliminating open defecation remains the main aim of improving access to sanitation globally as a proposed indicator for the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations,” says Wash coordinator for the APs Eunice Nafere.
She says even if toilets are available, people still need to be convinced to refrain from open defecation and use toilets.
“The country is committed to providing adequate, reliable and sustainable sanitation and hygiene promotion services to attain the vision of ensuring “Sanitation for All in Malawi”, says Nafere.
As it stands now also, Malawi is among the eight African countries which are creatively achieving the goals of community led total sanitation programmes (CLTS).