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Women fight open defecation

Open Defecation Freee Champion, Mamakaieane Khats'oaneTHABA-TSEKA - Despite efforts by government and non-governmental organisations  to eliminate the practice of Open Defecation (OD) among many rural communities in Lesotho  by building toilets and asking people to use them accordingly,  about a third  of the people living in rural areas still relieve themselves in the open.

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report the situation has not changed over the past five years as statistics indicate that at least 34 percent people of the people in Lesotho still prefer to defecate in the open despite the health challenges that are associated with the practice. 

The use of proper toilets and washing hands helps to prevent the transfer of bacteria, viruses and parasites found in human excreta which otherwise contaminate water resources, soil and food. This contamination is a major cause of diarrhea which is the second biggest killer of children in developing countries, and leads to other major diseases such as cholera and trachoma.

In its report on Water Supply and Sanitation, WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (WHO/UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme says 62 percent  of Africans do not have access to an improved sanitation facility (a proper toilet) which separates human waste from human contact.

The report further says about 2.6 billion people around the world live without access to a toilet at home and thus are vulnerable to a range of health risks and that has a serious impact on social development, especially for children.

But the Government of Lesotho is taking no chances and has intensified its campaign against OD to make sure the practice is eliminated completely and despite the setbacks in the campaign there have been some success stories.

One of the villagers that has transformed from OD to proper use of ablutions systems is Ha Khupiso, Lesobeng in the district of Thaba Tseka. Previously it had been one of the villages in which the practice of OD was high as people were ignorant of any other form of ablution than relieving themselves in open spaces or near water sources and they did not have enough knowledge on how dangerous that could be.

But ever since the coming into the village by officials from the Department of Rural Water Supply under Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme, the village has been identified as the first ever to do away with OD. What makes the programme more successful is that women from the village have been on the forefront of the project and have pushed very hard to have the practice totally abolished.

CLTS is an innovative methodology for mobilizing communities to exercise behavioral changes when it comes to ablution or relieving themselves to ensure healthy and sustainable living. At Ha Khupiso the community was introduced to how they could minimize diseases that came as a result of poor sanitation methods.

Some villagers who spoke at a community gathering at Ha Khupiso to celebrate the success of the Open Defecation Free (OPF) initiative last week confessed that were often attacked by diseases such as diarrhea and many others that come with poor sanitation before the project.

They said that they were not aware that they were the ones who were damaging their lives by using the bush to defecate and also by not washing their hands each time before eating, as well as not covering the food and the water to prevent flies.

Members of the community also said after being introduced to CLTS they realized that it had now become possible for them to live free of germs and bacteria after they built toilets and made use of them instead of relieving themselves in the bush. The villagers also noted the innovative use of tippy- taps for washing hands clean.

During the recent visit to Ha Khupiso one of the village councilors ‘Mapuseletso Mosotho said that for the fact that they did not know anything about toilets when they came from a workshop at Thaba Tseka, many villagers around them laughed at them while they were building toilets with the resources they had. However, they are now benefiting from the fruits of their labour.

From Rural Water Supply, Fusi Lifoloane said that their main target is to make progress towards Vision 2020 but due to limited funds they were struggling to do as planned, which is to make sure that every Mosotho understands clearly the importance of good sanitation, a proper toilet and clean running water.

He said most surveys have shown that there is a huge difference between people who have been taught about good sanitation and those who have been built toilets but were not using them. He said that many people who received toilets before CLTS was introduced have turned the toilets into store rooms as they still continued going to the bush.

From Unicef Moeti Makoa said Ha Khupiso should be exemplary and take the message about the importance of OPF to nearby villages and teach people to change their behavior towards OD.

To advance the OPF programme, the Department of Rural Water Supply also celebrated the achievement of Ha Khupiso women by giving them certificates of excellence as well as celebrating ‘Mamakaeane Khatšoane, who was crowned as the champion of ODF as she was the first person to finish her toilet after the workshop.

In her speech Khatšoane narrated how she started building the toilet the very same day after the workshop and this encouraged her to stop using the bush for ablution. She then decided to talk to other villagers and women about the plan and others joined in – leading to the success of the project.

In the same manner Ha Khupiso community had one or more challenges from poor sanitation and due to the difficulties of getting to the clinic in time some lives especially babies were lost back in the years. But now things have changed. The villages are now clean and one can see from a distance clean improved toilets, tippy-taps and protected places to pour out dirty water.

For the fact that women are the ones who influenced the whole community to change the behavior shows that women can be regarded to as the drivers of change and it also shows that women are slowly changing the culture that only men can take decisions despite taking into consideration what women may think is the best thing to do.

This implies the saying that goes ‘if you educate a woman you are educating the whole nation’  so women have to be empowered to be willing to take part in ensuring good sanitation so that as to fulfil the goals of the CLTS project - just like what women at Ha Khupiso did.

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