Farm block sanitation through the eyes of a community champion

Farm block sanitation through the eyes of a community champion

By Maswabi Precious Matantilo & Tumba Mupango on September 3, 2014 in News, Water and Sanitation Health

Laying on the Great North Road, North East of Kapiri Mposhi in Central province is Mkushi District. With a population of around 150,000, Mkushi is well known for its commercial farms. It has since become one of Zambia’s leading agricultural districts with a consistent bumper harvest of maize, soya beans, tobacco and wheat.

In spite of Mkushi’s addition to Zambia’s GDP, it faces a great challenge in ensuring adequate sanitation for its communities. The farm block areas are no exception as evidenced from what I saw as I travelled through selected parts of the district. One farm we visited was made up of 53 households with a population of 275, yet it shared just four latrines.

One might wonder how this comes to be. Farms are comprised of casual workers and permanent workers, but most farm owners build houses for only the permanent workers. The casual workers are forced to build their own houses and mostly do not build latrines. The housing is unplanned and is done in a temporary, disorderly manner. The workers move to the farms with their families, some farms hosting as many as 80 families.

The Zambian government, with technical assistance from Akros, is working with community champions, individuals who volunteer to spearhead Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) in their communities. They do this with the help of environmental health technicians and the local authority.

A farmblock household
A farmblock household

“I was motivated to become a community champion by the lack of toilets in my community,” said Margaret Ngulube, a local community champion. The 35 year old mother of four attended a Ministry of Local Government and Housing facilitated CLTS training in Mkushi District in 2013 with Support from UNICEF. Her home is at one of the farms situated in Tembwe Ward, Mkushi. She supervises 12 farm blocks which are about five to eight kilometers apart.

Margaret’s work includes triggering the farms and compiling data on how the farms are faring with regard to making strides towards achieving open defecation free (ODF) status. Triggering is an approach aimed at stimulating a collective sense of fear, disgust and shame among community members as they confront the crude facts about mass open defecation and its negative impacts on the entire community. Activities include “transect walks” (tours of the village locating open defecation sites and tracing paths of contamination through water or animals), discussions, and the formulation of an action plan to become ODF. The idea is also for the community to discover ways in which open defecation is endangering their health and to motivate them to initiate change.

The approach to CLTS in farm blocks is similar to that in villages. Margaret explained that they enter a farm by first seeing the farm manager or farm owner who then sets a date and time they can come and meet the people. Once the triggering process is complete the people then start constructing latrines.

Margaret has since done exceptional work for her community using the CLTS approach in Tembwe ward. In one farm made up of 40 households with a population of 213 had only five latrines before the triggering campaign. As a result of her work, there are now almost 40 latrines on this same farm. She attributes her success to her supportive husband, the use of a bicycle and use of a mobile phone for reporting. Margaret states that she does, however, face some challenges in the farms reaching ODF status as most families relocate from the area once their contracts expire. She is left with no choice but to establish a new working group with the new workers and ensure community sensitization on CLTS is carried out all over again.

Ruth Tembo, 40, is another woman who has volunteered to take up a leadership role in her community. She heads a sanitation action group (SAG) of 10 people in Tembwe Ward and works closely with Margaret. She became the group’s chairperson in February after a CLTS meeting at the farm where she lives and works as a teacher for a nearby community school. Ruth, a single mother of four, said she became interested in volunteering following her realization during the initial CLTS meeting that adequate sanitation was an integral component of any community. She went on to state that she was motivated by the fact that many deaths and diseases would be prevented by her volunteering to sensitize the community on the importance of good hygiene and using a toilet. Before commencing her work as a teacher, Ruth had to build her own house and toilet which she shares with one other household. Under her leadership the SAG has since made considerable strides in ensuring an open defecation free environment at the farm.

Ruth, whose role includes sensitizing and collecting data on household sanitation status, says that assisting the community in understanding the importance of using a toilet was challenging at first. “Some people maintained that an enemy would use black magic and bewitch them if they used a toilet,” said Ruth. She went on to explain that socialization played a major role in moulding their thinking and deconstructing it was not a very easy assignment. In pointing out some successes of the approach, Ruth, with a passionate smile, indicated that she had seen a tremendous reduction in the number of diarrheal cases.

Margaret, the SAGs, the Environmental Health Technicians (EHTs) and the local authorities with support from Akros are all working together to achieve ODF for the farm blocks and Mkushi District.

About Maswabi Precious Matantilo

Precious Matantilo is an Advocacy and Communications Officer for Akros and is a Global Health Corps fellow for 2014/2015. Before joining Akros, Precious worked for the Commonwealth Youth Programme as programmes assistant. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies from the Zambian Open University.

About Tumba Makuwa Mupango

Tumba Mupango is a WASH Surveillance Officer with Akros. She Hold a Bachelor of Development Studies Degree from Copperstone University. Before joining Akros She worked as Community Development Advisor on the Zambia Water Sector programme.