Jeremiah Kaonga of Thawiro Village, Traditional Authority Mwiran’gombe in Karonga sets out for the bush with his little axe on his shoulder. Looking at him, one may think he is going there to cut some wood or do some gardening. But that is not the case.
When he gets to the bush, he digs a shallow hole, squats and relieves himself. The bush is his toilet. When his mission is completed, he covers up the shallow hole with a little sand, picks up two or three pieces of wood and heads back home. He sees nothing wrong with it.
Kaonga is just one of many people in the village who has no toilet. And this has been the situation for many years.
But that was until WaterAid intervened last year. Now things have changed for the better.
“I never really saw the point of having a toilet when there were bushes in the vicinity,” Kaonga says.
He says it never occurred to him that he needed to dig and construct a pit latrine.
“It sounded irrelevant and a waste of time. But sometimes the thought of meeting my children or my mother-in-law in the bush would make me think of a toilet. But then many people in my village were in a similar situation,” says Kaonga.
Edasi Mlenga of Mwandukutu Village, T/A Mwirang’ombe was one of the others who practised open defaecation. She said she preferred going to the bush to using the latrine because the construction of pit latrine is time-consuming.
But WaterAid implemented a citizen voice project to empower people in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (Wash). With support from National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) and Karonga District Council, WaterAid mobilised communities in citizen forums and sensitised them to the need for Wash. The forums encourage households to have toilets and sensitise people to the negative impacts of open defecation.
Now, at the entrance of Thawiro Village, one is welcomed by a sign post that reads ‘Tilikuleka kunya mavi pawalo’ (We stopped open defecation).
Chair of Thawiro Citizen Forum Anete Mlenga says the citizen forums play a vital role in ensuring that sanitation is observed at all times by the community. She said they work together with chiefs to ensure all people in the village have sanitation facilities such as pit latrines and rubbish pits.
“We make sure everyone has a pit latrine and if a household does not have one, we give them time to construct one. If by the specified time the household still does not have a latrine, they pay a fine of K5 000 and we (forum) construct a latrine for them,” says Mlenga.
She says it has not been easy to convince people who were used to defaecating in the bush to abandon the practice.
“Sometimes the villagers would threaten us. Mziwa Village, which is next to Thawiro, had only three toilets but now every household has a toilet,” Mlenga says.
Kaonga now has a pit latrine and says he no longer goes to the bushes since he now understands the implications of such practices.
“I now know that when I defaecate in the bush, I end up eating my own waste when flies land the waste and later on my food. I also learnt that when it rains, the wastes can bring about diseases like cholera,” says Kaonga.
GVH Thawiro says there have been notable improvements in hygiene in his area. He says cases of diarrhoeal diseases have reduced, proving the project has had a positive impact.
WaterAid advocacy programme officer Lawrent Kumchenga says from the results achieved in a short time, the project is guaranteed success by its completion.
“We empower people to participate in development activities and to demand services from the right people without fear. We also sensitise the communities to issues of transparency and accountability so that they should be holding their leaders accountable to facilitate smooth governance,” says Kamchenga.
Karonga District director of planning and development, Emmanuel Bulukutu Chirwa, says there has been an increased demand for public services in the areas where the Citizen Voice Project is being implemented. He said there is a severe water problem in some parts of the district and people have been demanding boreholes from his office which, he says, is a sign of progress.
Mwakashunguti Village, an umbrella village of several other villages like Thawiro and Mziwa, emerged winner in an open defaecation-free area competition that assessed the whole Karonga.