A Toilet Story

by Noah Wekesa

Deep in an idyllic village off the Malindi-Mombasa highway, in a place cool with the shade and sway of trees, where children pick up fruits from vast farms on their way back from school and lazy village dogs sleep all day, there lives a formidable change-maker whose story is the stuff that is regaled around village night fires as families gather after a hard day’s work.

In Bomani village in the year 2014, where Crispus Kalenga, a soft-spoken shopkeeper and father of four was going about his business in the tight-knit community, the Chief called for a meeting with villagers in partnership with Amref Health Africa. You see, standard community entry strategy requires that we involve the community in seeing how best the proposed interventions will work, and the Financial Inclusion Improves Sanitation and Health in Kenya (FINISH INK) project through the support of Amref Health Africa in the Netherlands had an innovative approach whose goal was to go beyond sensitisation by linking up interested villagers with affordable loans that would enable them actually build the toilet.

“I remember my first encounter with Amref at this big Chief’s baraza (meeting) where they shared their planned interventions targeted at enabling all villagers to build a toilet. It is at this meeting that I was chosen to head a committee of other volunteers and charged with ensuring that 140 households built toilets.”

A Difficult Journey

It was not an easy job for Crispus and his dedicated committee of volunteers.

How do you convince a generation that had comfortably lived without a toilet since the days of their ancestors to build one? How do you diplomatically demystify traditional taboos against sharing a toilet between certain in-laws in a rural setting where the sense of tradition is still very strong and the air rife with superstition? And then on top of that, you ask them to take a bank loan to build a toilet?

Samuel Katana: old but passionate about transforming his village for the better

“We supported Kalenga as our Chairperson and managed to convince villagers, one family at a time, through in-depth sensitisation conversations. Eventually, they understood the importance of building a toilet and now this is no longer a problem in our village.” — Samuel Katana, Deputy Chairperson of the Village Sanitation Committee.

Bomani Village is by all measures Open Defecation Free, meaning that every villager has access to and is utilizing safe sanitation, and human waste is properly disposed and the slabs for the pit latrine are free from the risk of collapsing. This has been achieved through training of local artisans on how to properly build different models of sanitation facilities as per the client’s needs.

Mud-walled latrine (extreme left), brick-walled latrine with red and white paint (in the middle)

All kinds of toilets dot the village, depending on the socio-economic status of the family, from humble mud-walled latrines with a distinctive vent pipe to modern-looking pour-flush toilets complete with a handwashing sink inside.

First Encounters

Far up the Coastal North, across a temperamental river that sometimes unleashes its wrath through terrible floods and is home to ferocious hippos that maul unsuspecting villagers and rampage through their precious crops of maize at night, in Magarini sub-county, most children encounter their very first toilet in an Amref Health Africa project school.

Kindergarten teachers have to train them on proper toilet use and inculcate this behaviour on the minds of little ones. As the pupils progress through a project school where Amref has school health interventions, they are transformed from open defecators to change agents who hustle their parents back home to build a toilet like the one they use at school.

Through the ventilated improved pit latrines built with the support of Amref Health Africa, the problem of disposal of used sanitary pads for adolescent girls has also been resolved. The Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) programme in Kenya targets communities, health facilities and schools with the most appropriate sanitation solutions that fit local context, thus addressing real community needs.

Mjanaheri Primary School Pupils outside a latrine sponsored by Amref Health Africa in Italy

Every Life Matters

As we celebrate World Toilet Day this year, we feel emboldened by the fact that the Kenya WASH & NTDs programme has directly enabled an average of 326 Kenyans gain access to safe sanitation every day for the last five years across 24 Counties in Kenya. We have touched marginalised lives, from children starting kindergarten to formidable old change agents like Samuel who burn with zeal in their quest to ensure every household in his village has access to a toilet. We still have so much to do, but our vision is clear and the cause noble. Dignity to replace the shame of not having a toilet, lasting health to cut down the heavy disease burden borne by poor and marginalised, a more prosperous Africa through lasting health change. Happy World Toilet Day!

By Arthur Mwai

Twitter: @Mwaigaryan

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1 comment

Dorothy Adongo November 23, 2019 - 8:26 am

This toilet business should be done in most parts of Suba too.

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