Working with traditional leadership towards CLTS improvements
The Luapula Province sits in Zambia’s northeast wing, nestled up against the Democratic Republic of Congo with Lake Mweru at its northernmost tip. It is a heavily populated area thanks to a rich fishing tradition and the fertile soil that supports the production of palm oil. For such a dense area though, the sanitary facilities in this area were few and open defecation was the common practice. The soil there is loose and sandy in some parts, making the construction of latrines difficult. There are longstanding cultural taboos that prevent the discussion of toilet use, and the idea of many people using the same place to defecate strikes many as uncouth. One of the main factors, previously unexplored, was the fact that the villages’ traditional leadership – figures such as village headmen and chiefs – had not been actively involved in pushing their villages to become open defecation free (ODF).
Chieftainess Lambwe Chomba is one such chieftainess among the Bemba speaking people living in Luapula Province in Chiengi District. This summer she participated in a community-led total sanitation (CLTS) chiefdom orientation meeting developed and presented by UNICEF and Akros. The session included an introduction to the philosophy, principals and practice behind CLTS. The group discussed the Zambian government’s policy on rural sanitation as well as the monthly reporting system used to track CLTS improvements. With Chieftainess Chomba at the forefront, the village headmen and headwomen were then challenged to set goals towards their villages attaining ODF status.
Before the orientation, none of the villages in Chomba’s Chiefdom were ODF and around 75% of the population had no access to toilets. Two months later the same figures are almost unrecognizable. Lambwe Chomba’s Chiefdom is now the best performing area in Chienge district with an ODF status of 97.5% with 10 of its 20 reported villages currently being reported claiming full ODF status.
It is clear that Chieftainess Chomba and other traditional leaders like her got serious about making steps toward improving the sanitation health in their chiefdom. These rapid improvements have come about from a combination of factors including community sensitization by the volunteer health workers and rigorous follow-ups in the community by the district. The greatest change, however, has been the influence of the traditional leaders, making the sanitation health of their villages a top priority. By using the traditional channels of leadership in these communities, we have been able to affect change in these communities in a rapid way, the likes of which we have never seen.
Akros recently received a letter from the nurse at Lambwe Chomba Rural Health Centre congratulating them on their efforts and the improvements she has seen. In just part of the letter, she states:
“Since the program was initiated, one good first thing I have seen is the continuous meetings and monthly sanitational inspections carried out in our community HH. I have also seen a fast change in our community effort and behaviour related to sanitation. When I happen to take a walk around the village I notice that almost ever house has a latrine and rubbish pits, container, soap and ash near the toilets.”
“Therefore, with this opportunity may I encourage the community champions, the community at large and Akros to work hand in hand together to improve sanitation levels to better ones. No one else will come and bring change in our homes without our contribution. We are the owners and all the responsibility falls on us as community members and individuals.”
– Sinda Chifymy
RN, Acting In-charge, Lambwe Chomba RHC
Reactions from course participants
Adam Mwashi is an Environmental Health Technician at Lambwe Chikwama RHC who came into this area in 2005. “There are a lot of improvements in the villages. Before Akros there were no toilets but now people have responded to the message. There are a lot of toilets and HWFs. Before the chief was not involved but now she is on top of things.”
Headman Shikitento’s village has now obtained ODF status. “Before the chief got involved, when the community champions started getting reports from my village there were only 22 toilets out of the 44 households, and even those had no lids or [HWFs]. Now every household has a toilet with a lid and HWFs. My village is very clean, the champions and the chief have helped.”
Kalupale Shichone, is a community champion in Ms. Chombwa’s ward. Six of his villages are now ODF. “Since the chiefdom meeting the chief punishes everyone without a toilet and she is very helpful to us as community champions, the villages have really responded very well. They appreciate what the government is doing through Akros.”
Sarah Muleya Nchimunya, the Water and Sanitation Coordinator in Chiengi District, Luapula Province said, “This is a plus to me. I had never had any interaction with Chieftaness Lambwe Chomba Chomba before this meeting. This is not the end. You will see the number of ODF villages rising because of the good work which Akros is doing.”
About Rabson Zimba
Rabson Zimba is a WASH Surveillance Officer with Akros. His responsibilities have included providing support to the chiefdom, helping them establish and manage targets. He spearheaded the CLTS orientation in Lambwe Chomba Chiefdom. He holds a Bachelor of science in Environmental Health from the school of Medicine at UNZA. Before Joining Akros he served as Secretary General for the Environmental Health Student Association.
Learn more about the Akors W.A.S.H. program here.