It Takes a Village to Improve Community Sanitation and Hygiene
Every child has the right to safe water and sanitation, but in Uganda, poor hygiene conditions and unequal access to safe drinking water put the health and lives of thousands of children at risk every day.
UNICEF hygiene and sanitation education programs work: 8 of 10 households in western Uganda's Kamwenge district have a safe, clean, functioning latrine
UNICEF's work in western Uganda's Kamwenge district proves that the country's sanitation problem is not unsolvable. Of every ten households in Kamwenge, eight have a functioning, clean and safe latrine. The district also soars above the national average for access to handwashing facilities in schools. For a district that hosts over 68,000 refugees and an indigenous population of primarily subsistence farmers, how is this achieved?
UNICEF's Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) innovations in homes and schools have made this improvement possible.
In early 2019, UNICEF partnered with local leaders to intensify the CLTS program, which encourages the community to use locally available materials to solve their hygiene and sanitation challenges.
The tippy tap — a simple, hands-free handwashing device — can reduce the risk of diarrhea by over 50 percent
The tippy tap, a simple, hands-free handwashing facility, is one such domestic innovation that has revolutionized sanitation in schools. Made of local materials, the device can reduce the risk of contracting diarrhea by over 50 percent, and respiratory infections by 35 percent. Students who were previously deprived of basic hygiene facilities are now able to access safe, clean water within walking distance from their classrooms. Above, a student washes her hands at a tippy tap outside Damasiko Primary School.
One of the aims of UNICEF's CLTS program is to make Kamwenge an open defecation free (ODF) district. Instead of relying on conventional interventions which often focus only on constructing more latrines, UNICEF uses education programs to teach people about open defecation's negative impact on public health.
UNICEF health workers are empowering communities in western Uganda to make Kamwenge an open defecation free district
"The community members sometimes don't know that open defecation is a problem, so with triggering, the goal is to make them feel disgusted and ashamed at the implications of the act," explains a UNICEF-supported health worker. Above left, a community leader holds a bottle of drinking water contaminated with feces to demonstrate what happens when people defecate near water sources.
UNICEF believes that positive change in hygiene behavior can be accomplished through a combination of motivation, information and education. This includes regular community awareness sessions run by trained health inspectors.
"My job is to protect people from getting diseases. We believe 70 percent of the common diseases people get are from poor hygiene and sanitation," says Gertrude Kengonzi, a local health inspector. "To do this, we go to villages and sensitize them to improve sanitation behaviors." After attending a sensitization session, Nsemerirwe Aarons (above) upgraded his family's latrine, plastering the walls and adding doors and a tippy tap for handwashing.
Health workers also survey village neighborhoods to assess whether households are taking basic hygiene precautions. Above, health workers do a "walk of shame" with a group of villagers using a map on the ground identifying open defecation spots. Stones indicate households, leaves mark open defecation sites and plastic bottles represent water sources, raising awareness on open defecation's negative impact on the local water supply.
Above, a young health worker teaches students at Damasiko Primary School how to make and operate a tippy tap. The strides that Kamwenge district has made in sanitation demonstrate how local innovations and interventions can empower communities to solve their own hygiene problems.
UNICEF won't stop until every child has access to safe water, working latrines and basic hygiene facilities
But the fight to improve community sanitation doesn't stop here. UNICEF and partners continue to work every day to ensure that every school, household and child in Uganda has access to clean water, working latrines and basic hygiene facilities.
Sanitation not only saves lives, but also brings dignity and prosperity to people.
All photographs by Zahara Abdul for UNICEF
Top photo: Josephine Mukonyezi, a 26-year-old mother of six, washes her hands at the tippy tap outside her family's latrine in Mutwe Village, Kamwenge district, Uganda. Mukonyezi and her husband learned about the health benefits of improved sanitation after attending a UNICEF-led community education program. "Now we are better off and we no longer get some of the diseases we used to suffer from," she says. © UNICEF/UNI217958/Abdul