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From AfricaSan to MalawiSan: Using international resolutions to encourage CLTS in Malawi

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In May 2015, all roads led to Dakar where the 4th AfricaSan Conference with the theme ‘Achieving universal access to adequate and sustainable sanitation and hygiene services and eliminating open defecation by 2030’ was held. The event was organized by the Ministers and Heads of Delegations responsible for sanitation and hygiene in Africa, together with senior civil servants, academics, civil society, development partners and the private sector.

In the case of Malawi, and in particular for Plan International, the 4th AfricanSan was a special conference as Plan decided to turn it into a tool for enhancing CLTS activities in various communities. Using the Ngor Declaration  (Ngor is the place in Dakar, Senegal where the conference took place) that was signed by the Ministers and Heads of delegations at AfricaSan 4, Plan International Malawi saw an opportunity to woo local government authorities and Traditional Leaders to take a leading role in ensuring an ODF Malawi.

Led by the Deputy Director of Water Supply Services and Sanitation in the Ministry responsible for Sanitation, Plan International Malawi in collaboration with the GSF team organized lesson sharing workshops in the three of the five districts where the GSF is being implemented. Through the lesson sharing as well as highlighting of key declarations made at AfricaSan, it was anticipated that the local government authorities and traditional leaders would be triggered to see the value of sanitation. And indeed this just worked like magic.

In order to have the message reach all corners of the mentioned districts, all chiefs and the district management team were invited to an open meeting. The team that had gone to Dakar then shared the key lessons from the conference followed by an explanation by the Leader of Delegation of the key commitments made at the conference. Plan also capitalized on the eloquence and motivation of Traditional Authority Mwadzama whose area will be declared ODF very soon. T.A. Mwadzama was among the team that attended the AfricaSan following his efforts to have an ODF district.

Having shared the AfricaSan vision to have an ODF Africa by 2030, it was left open for the participants to deliberate on whether to stick to the international deadline or to move the date forward, given progress already made. The workshops were organized in such a way that by the end of the day, the district councils themselves had to make commitments without being forced. Each district was allocated a day in order to have enough time for interactions and deliberations between Plan personnel, the Government and the district councils including chiefs.  Plan International emphasized the need for a strong leadership and coordination at all levels to build and sustain governance for sanitation as highlighted in commitment number 4 of the Ngor declarations.

It was fascinating to see the district management personnel and the traditional leaders exchange ideas and points on how to tackle the sanitation and hygiene problems in their areas. Just a few moments into the lesson sharing, it was clear that the chiefs and the district management team were already keen to take action. This was spiced up by the inspirational chief Traditional Authority Mwadzama. His enthusiasm and commitment had been fuelled by his attendance at AfricaSan and his learning about what other countries are doing. The chief spoke of his personal involvement in ensuring that his subjects are living in a hygienic environment. He talked of how he used a bicycle to reach places that could be considered unreachable at his age. One thing that moved most of us was his courage to temporarily strip chieftaincy from his subjects (village headmen) who were not showing commitment to CLTS issues. Once the Village headmen showed some improvements, the T.A. reinstated such subjects to their positions. Some other chiefs in the same districts learnt of this courage at the same meeting and it was surprising to the other chiefs that such a move was being supported by the District Council.

As one of the organizers of the “Malawi San”, I was not surprised when the three districts in question made their declarations to be ODF earlier than the target set at the AfricaSan of 2030 as well as beating the Malawi’s national ODF target of 2022. Inspired by the Ngor declarations, Nkhotakota district, where T.A, Mwadzama comes from, made a declaration to be ODF by 2017. It was encouraging to learn that 5 other Traditional Authorities in the district (besides Mwadzama) committed to being active in scaling up sanitation and hygiene promotion activities and happily agreed to learn more from the inspirational Mwadzama and also to work closely with the district council on moving Nkhotakota on that path to 2017.

Nkhotakota San was followed by Balaka San- another commitment to be ODF by 2017. All the six Traditional Authorities in Balaka challenged Mwadzama: “It does not matter that you went to Senegal for the AfricaSan, but Balaka district will be declared ODF before Nkhotakoka.”

However, the most ambitious commitment of all came from Rumphi District under the ‘Rumphi San’ that committed and declared that the district will be ODF by 2016.

For Plan Malawi, the momentum generated by bringing the AfricaSan declaration home has been a milestone. District councils and traditional leaders saw the importance of making collaborative decisions and agreed to move with speed towards ODF. While it is important to move with speed, Plan also cautioned the traditional leaders that it is vital to ensure that the communities invest in sustainable solutions through construction of durable latrines.

Plan Malawi’s Country Director, Lilly Omondi applauded the chiefs and the local government authorities for seeing value in prioritizing sanitation. She expressed her joy for being part of the “Malawi San”. The Chief of Party of the GSF in Malawi, Mr. Amsalu Negussie also expressed his joy to be part of history as Malawi makes a giant step in eliminating ODF through these districts.

As a person in charge of WASH within Plan, it is my desire to see these commitments translate into verifiable evidence of transformation in creating an ODF Malawi. I will ensure total coordination with the responsible Ministry in the Government as we seek to go into many other districts in our country.

Thoko Kaitane is WASH Programme Manager for Plan Malawi.

Date: 1 September 2015