MUDZI, Zimbabwe, – Teresa Ndemera turns her face up in disgust. “l had no idea we had been eating each other’s excreta until l saw a plate of sadza “pap” [porridge] on the floor next to a pile of human faeces with flies swarming around it.” Teresa (45), mother of five, is recalling the triggering session she attended three years ago, organised by her community’s Sanitation Action Group (SAG).
Teresa lives in rural Chikare Village under Mudzi District in Eastern Zimbabwe. “My family and l lived like animals, we would use fields, bushes, forests and ditches as toilets. It really took away my self-esteem, but there was nothing l could do. l could never afford to build a latrine,” said Teresa. “However, l just found comfort in knowing that most people in Chikare Village defecated in the open, like me.”
Open defecation was commonplace due to a lack of toilets, washing facilities and sanitation knowledge. Building a latrine was never on Teresa’s list of priorities as she could not afford the cement to build one. Teresa and her husband could barely make enough from ploughing. A day’s work in the hot sun, earned only enough for a plate of hot food for their children.
“My family and l lived like animals, we would use fields, bushes, forests and ditches as toilets. It really took away my self-esteem, but there was nothing l could do. l could never afford to build a latrine,”
The Sanitation Action Group
Fifty-two per cent of rural communities in Zimbabwe practice open defecation. In response, UNICEF is supporting the Government of Zimbabwe to implement a Rural WASH Programme (RWP) entitled “Support to Improve Water and Sanitation in Rural areas – Zimbabwe”, with support from the Government of the United Kingdom (UK) through its Department for International Development (DfID). The overall goal of this RWP is to contribute to reduced burden of diarrhoeal diseases, and improve productivity for over 4 million people, including men, women, children and the vulnerable in 42 rural districts in all 8 rural provinces of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has had a long history of supply driven sanitation programs. However, demand led sanitation has had remarkable success. Demand-led sanitation approach has been piloted in all 8 rural provinces with UNICEF support and a total of 3,364 ODF communities have been achieved in a total of 45 districts were achieved over the period 2012-2018. UNICEF supported the training of selected community structures on Sanitation Focused Participatory Health & Hygiene Promotion(SafPHHE) and they formed Sanitation Action Groups that works with the rest of the community to understand and analyse their situation, promote good sanitation and hygiene practices and the community takes the initiative to become open defecation-free.
The Environmental Health Technicians from MoHCC trained local builders how to construct latrines and provided guidance on construction ofpot-racks, refuse pits and tippy taps. Vulnerable families like Teresa’s were assisted with subsidized cement to build their latrines.
The triggering session brought home to Teresa the connection between open defecation and illness. Previously, she did not know the risk in allowing her young children to crawl or walk barefoot and put things in their mouths without washing their hands.
“Before l built my latrine in 2017, it was normal for any of my household members to have a stomach ache, l recall in 2015 my 9-year-old son almost died of diarrhea. In most cases, after defecating in the open, I would not wash my hands. I also used to wash my dishes on the ground where my chickens and goats would defecate,” said Teresa.
Teresa points to a plastic container with water hanging from a wooden crossbar, with a make-shift string lever. “To complement my new toilet, SAG taught me how to build my chigubu gear [tippy-tap]. Located outside the latrine, Teresa’s family uses it to wash their hands after using the toilet, something they never used to do before.
Safe, accessible and private
Touring her clean yard, Teresa shows off two new refuse pits and a potrack. Formerly, she would throw her waste into the bush and wash her dishes on the ground. Now she’s an advocate for good sanitation and hygiene.
The provision of accessible, private toilets has also made women and girls in Chikare Village feel safe. After dark, searching for secluded and private places to defecate brought tremendous risk. “We have had so many rape incidences in Chikare Village because of open defecation, l know so many girls who have been raped in the evening,” said Teresa.
“we have not experienced any stomach aches ever since l got my new toilet and attended the SAG meetings.”
Having a toilet has drastically improved Teresa’s life. “I am just so grateful for what UNICEF has done for me, my girl children are now safe and healthy, we have not experienced any stomach aches ever since l got my new toilet and attended the SAG meetings.” Thanks to the ‘triggering’ of community members like Teresa, Chikare village has achieved open defecation free status.