The life of a Community Champion

The life of a Community Champion

By Maswabi Precious Matantilo on March 30, 2015 in News, Water and Sanitation Health

Justine Mwape is one of the most hardworking Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) volunteers in the Serenje District of Central Province. He led Kabamba ward to end open defecation in 2014 when he was serving there as a Community Champion. His journey was not so smooth as he had to work as the only Champion in the area for some time after his co-champion left. He had to supervise about 51 sparsely populated villages alone. This did not limit him as he decided to put in some extra hours to ensure adequate sanitation in his area of operation. Mwape became a Champion soon after the CLTS programme was introduced to the area in 2013. He describes community work as an inborn thing, something that comes naturally and enables him to thrive with ease even in challenging situations.

Asked how he was able to lead the ward to stop open defecation, he stated that the Ministry of Local Government and Housing, Chief Kabamba and Akros were very instrumental in helping him facilitate the change. He further stated that his vast prior experience in community work instilled some skills that he used in the CLTS programme such as team building, facilitation and conflict management.

“Chief Kabamba instructed the Sanitation Action Group (SAG) to work hard and ensure every household had a toilet,” Mwape said. He further urged the community to support the most vulnerable groups in constructing latrines such as the aged, handicapped and absolute poor. The SAG is a committee established to sensitize subjects on issues of sanitation and hygiene at village level.

“Before the introduction of CLTS to the area, Chief Kabamba would go out in the chiefdom and would urge his subjects to build latrines and households without latrines were charged,” said Mwape. “Since the aspect of behavioral change was not emphasized, people were prepared to pay anything and continue using the bush to defecate,” he added.

Chief Kabamba did the last verification process in Kabamba Ward during which he inspected each household to ensure all of them had latrines. This was after a combined team of officials from the Ministry of Local Government and Housing, and the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs inspected the area to verify if the area was open defecation free under the CLTS programme.

Tumba Mupango, Akros Surveillance Officer
Tumba Mupango, Akros Surveillance Officer

“Being the person responsible for coordinating the implementation of CLTS in Serenje District, I feel honored to be associated with this achievement,” Tumba Mupango, Akros Surveillance Officer said. “I am certain that the area will maintain this adequate sanitation as CLTS places much emphasis on the use of no government subsidies, use of local materials and the involvement of traditional leaders in communities,” she said.

“Initiating conversations around open defecation was not easy as it was an embarrassing topic for people to talk about,” Mwape said. “I also noticed that people were very ignorant about the consequences of open defecation, that to me became an entry point in facilitating conversations,” he added.

Asked what he does now that the area is open defecation free and what this means to him, he stated that his role has shifted to interval inspection of the villages to ensure they maintain adequate sanitation. Attaining open defecation status means people in Kabamba Ward can now live in a safe and clean environment, free from disease.

David Sakala, Serenje Rural Water and Sanitation Coordinator
David Sakala, Serenje Rural Water and Sanitation Coordinator

“CLTS has been very successful as it has allowed the local community to play a leading role from inception through to implementation,” said David Sakala, Serenje Rural Water and Sanitation Coordinator, who is also the CLTS focal point person. He further added that he would try and incorporate CLTS in the Local Authority’s annual work plan so that it became more sustainable.

Before becoming a Champion, Mwapa and his wife Gladys founded a community school named Maipalile which meets the basic educational needs of vulnerable children in his community. Upon it opening in 2003, it enrolled about 155 pupils some of who are in their final grade at nearby government secondary schools.

Mwape has also in the past worked for CARE International and Africare as a care giver. He possesses a certificate in Electrical Engineering and has received training as a trainer of trainers in life skills.

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.