A GNA feature by Yaw A. O. Ansah,
Accra, July 30, GNA - What will be the reaction if you were squatting in the bush attending to nature’s call and halfway through you feel a sharp sting on your buttocks, thigh, genital or leg? Where will your attention be focused on, when you feel the second bite and you sight a green snake opening its mouth to launch a third attack?
This may sound dramatic, but that used to be the ordeal some adults and teenagers at Tong, a community in the Karaga district, found themselves in when they were defecating in the bush some four years ago.
40-year-old Mairiga Yahaya, a mother of six, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency narrated that aside exposure to snakebites, one other major issue the community members faced was disgrace and shame, as visitors to the area were welcomed by a strong stench, forcing guests to cover their noses with handkerchiefs.
It was common to see faeces of different shapes and sizes littered around the community because most children and teenagers defecated in the open.
Mairiga recounted that defecating indiscriminately had led to poor environmental conditions that affected their health, finance, dignity and socio-economic wellbeing.
“Almost every community member especially mothers and children use to frequent the hospital regularly to seek medical care. At the time, we spent a lot of money on our health and sometimes borrow money or sell our valuables to access healthcare.
“Together with our husbands, we lost many-hours due to the regular visits to the health centre. Women had to suspend trading. This affected farming activities and ultimately the crop yields,” she said.
Access to toilets
Access to toilets is a human right, yet about 2.4 billion people still lack such an important service, and in Ghana, it is estimated that the access rate in rural areas stand at nine per cent, says a recent UNICEF report.
The country ranks lowest in sanitation levels among all lower-middle-income countries, although richer than a lot.
About 290 million and $79 million is lost annually to poor sanitation and open defecation (OD), respectively, and it is estimated that it could take a long time for Ghana to become open defecation-free.
As a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals that included a target to achieve universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene by 2030, current trend showed there was much work to be done.
CLTS sensitisation by World Vision and partners
In order to arrest the low sanitation coverage woes, the World Vision Ghana together with its partners in the Gushegu and Karaga districts introduced the nationally adopted Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, which engages communities to recognise areas where open defecation occur and take their own actions to become totally free of OD.
The Gushegu Cluster Manager of the WVG, Mr Felix Apeti, explained that with the CLTS approach, a community is made to lead in behavioural change through mapping out of defecation routes and engaging in a walk of shame, during which the reality and consequences of their open defecation behaviour are brought to light.
After this, members of the community were educated by the WV team and partners on the importance of observing proper sanitation practices and assisted technically to build their own latrines with inexpensive materials.
Saving for transformation
Under the broad innovation called Savings for Transformation (S4T), Mr Apeti says that communities, including Tong, were introduced to the S4T and encouraged to procure a loan to build latrines.
S4T is an integrated novelty under WV’s food security and resilience technical programme, to improve and transform household food security by helping to harness local resources to invest in WASH businesses. The microfinance approach also helped to provide jobs and funding for local WASH entrepreneurship.
The group meets once a week where each member makes a contribution by procuring shares at the cost of GH¢2.00 per share. The money is counted and kept in a metallic box provided by WVG that has three padlocks and the keys given to three different people for safekeeping.
Investing in latrines
To ensure that it does not cost farmers a fortune, ensure sustainability and motivate them to invest in latrines, WVG worked together with the Gushegu and Karaga district environmental and sanitation department to selected community members and trained them on how to build latrines.
Mr Apeti noted that the latrines cost between GH¢30.00 to 40.00 and all the materials used for the construction, including cow dung, sand, straws, are locally sourced, except the cement that was used to plaster inner walls of the latrine.
Community members visit the sanitation market and choose from varieties of latrines, and are supported by the already trained individuals to construct the latrine.
So far the Tong community, with a population of about 5000, and 150 households have 31 operational latrines, which they share. With an average of 15 people per household, the community has two functional boreholes, a dam, and a well.
The new Tong community
The benefit of maintaining communal hygiene and ensuring appropriate disposal of faecal matter has impacted the health, economic, environmental and social lives of residents.
Meriga attested that the community has instituted a local law against OD, and those families that had latrines shared with those who do not have, while others who do not want to share dig and bury their faeces.
Benefits and conclusion
Community members now practise hand washing after going to the toilet. Each facility has a tippy tap; a hands-free way to wash your hands and is operated by a foot lever and thus reduces the chance for bacteria transmission as the user touches only the soap. “We now welcome visitors with smiles,” Meriga stated.
She said as a result of the paradigm shift, the dignity and respect of the community had been restored as they were no longer perceived as a ‘stinking community’.
She explained that her family and others, were able to save money, buy and store grains so that they had food all year round to feed their children, and had enough time to take care of their farms by ensuring good agronomic practices to boost yield.
“Previously we ploughed our land on credit and repaid at the end of the season with farm produce. Due to the savings initiative, we have enough money to pay for plough services and it has enabled us to be free and have control over our product and sell it when the market price appreciated.
“Our frequent visits to the health facility to seek medical care for illnesses including; diarrhoea and cholera, have reduced, Mr Yahaya Abdul Rasheed, a nurse at the Community-Based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) facility in the community said.