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Annual review meeting of the Plan Pan Africa programme kicks off in Ghana

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From the 27th February to the 1st March, the annual review meeting of the Pan African programme Empowering self-help sanitation of rural and peri-urban communities and schools in Africa is taking place just outside Accra, Ghana. Around 30 people from the 8 programme countries as well as representatives of the partners (Plan Netherlands, Plan RESA, IDS, IRC) are gathering to share experiences and lessones learned.

Each day, a few participants will share their reflections and views of the day’s discussions here on the blog.

The first day of the Pan African annual review meeting got us off to a good start. After being formally opened by Plan Ghana’s Country Director Prem Shukla and the Programme Support Manager Asoum, we quickly got the energy going with a round of fun introductions and icebreakers. Similar to the last meeting in Ethiopia, there is such a friendly relaxed atmosphere between people- it feels like a group of friends gathering and this, in my mind, really aids the exchange of learning for which we are here. It makes it easier to speak about some of the challenges the programme countries are dealing with and to admit what is not working well.

Indeed, this is what we really hope we can do: to all be honest about failures, challenges and questions- this is where we can learn the most. Unfortunately, this is also not something most of us feel very comfortable or familiar with. Usually, we are used to or encouraged (by the pressure and constraints of official reporting, for example) to proudly share our successes and progress and pretend that all is going well- but often this means that the really ‘juicy’ stories get lost.

For this reason, instead of a long day of powerpoint presentations, we tackled the reporting back of the 8 countries in a different, more (inter)active way, with each country setting up a display of a mixture of data, challenges, highlights, innovations, solutions and photos to illustrate their progress since the last meeting. We then walked around this gallery, country by country, learning much more than a powerpoint presentation would have allowed us to, otherwise. The whole exercise was made even more pleasant (and less sleepy) by its location outside in the Ghanaian sun, with fresh air and physical movement from one area to another.

I feel I learned a lot of new things and it became clear once again, that we are now in a very different phase of CLTS in Africa than at the last few meetings. Challenges and discussion now revolves much more around post-triggering follow up, M&E, sanitation marketing, sustainability and going to scale. Many countries seem to face similar challenges and problems. For me some of the things that stood out are as follows:

In the last newsletter, we had asked for innovations, ideas and solutions for difficult conditions such as hard rock, sandy soil or flooding that mean that latrines collapse. And this was an issue that was mentioned a lot during the country presentations, especially latrines collapsing due to heavy rains that cause flooding. But there were also some suggested solutions. For example, we heard from Zambia that they address these challenges by lining pits, eg using wooden or bamboo poles and by constructing round latrines. We also heard about basket linings. In Malawi, the Village Savings and Loans Groups are linked with those struggling with collapsing latrines, to enable them to invest in more durable sanitation options.

This issue also linked with another major topic, the question of how to get sustainable sanitation solutions to communities and facilitate the movement up the sanitation ladder without being prescriptive about latrine options or stalling the process of behaviour change and community action set in motion during triggering. A lot of questions about sanitation marketing were raised- this is still an area that many people are not sure of how to tackle and we will have further discussion in thematic groups about this on Day 2.

But in some countries, there are already some promising developments: In Uganda, Plan is working with technical training institutions which train masons to ensure that masons are aware of and able to make affordable and appropriate latrine options. In Ghana, SaniMarts provide information on technology, construction and maintenance, IEC materials, specialist info eg on child-friendly latrines.

Ghana also reported the challenge of communities wanting to start at higher rung of sanitation ladder from the start rather than with pit latrines. We have seen this in other countries, eg Cambodia before and I wonder how this issue can be addressed during triggering through good facilitation. It needs to be clear to communities that it may be better to start with a simpler affordable latrine and move up the sanitation ladder when resources are available rather than want to start with an expensive sophisticated model which they cannot afford and which then leads to expectation of subsidy or stalling of the process.

Another big area for discussion was around Natural Leaders: Most participants agreed that Natural Leaders need to be motivated and recognised for their efforts. But there were different opinions on the form that the recognition should take. Sierra Leone rewards outstanding Natural Leaders with a track record of good work with bicycles, so that they can more easily travel to communities. But from other countries we heard that they see this as a potential problem in terms of sustainability. Another issue raised was that rewarding some people eg Natural Leaders could cause tension and divisiveness in communities. This had previously been experienced in Ethiopia and Uganda.

To motivate and support Natural Leaders, Sierra Leone conducts training for them (there is a Natural Leader’s Training Manual). Exchange visits between Natural Leaders from different areas or chiefdoms also facilitate learning, support and cross-fertilisation of ideas. There is even a network of Natural Leaders with a constitution, registered as an official body. In Shebedino in Ethiopia, too, Natural Leaders have established themselves as a legally recognised and registered association that can, for example, apply for loans from banks, and get involved like a business. In Kenya, there is a Natural Leaders Forum that convenes Natural Leaders for discussion and exchange of ideas.

On another note, it was interesting to hear that in several countries, those tasked with verification and certification of communities cannot keep up with the speed with which communities declare themselves ODF, so a gap between numbers of communities triggered and number of communities declared ODF arises, even though many of them may be ODF. So I think there is some thinking to be done around models and processes for verification and certification in the long run.

The issue of communal versus individual household latrines was also mentioned. In some countries eg Ghana, the ratio of communal latrines to individual household latrines is high- but who maintains these? From field visits in other countries and stories shared by participants here, there is often a problem with the cleaning and maintenance of these communal latrines and their neglect quickly leads people back to open defecation. However, as Plan Ghana reported, in some areas eg in the south, the communal latrines are the only option as there are issues with availability of space.

Plan Zambia is integrating CLTS with their other WATSAN activities. The projects often start with water provision, then go on to CLTS and then address water for multiple uses. Because the term ‘water provision’ was used, I was concerned that the mixing of water and sanitation in this way may once again lead to communities expecting subsidised latrines (‘we are getting water for free so why should we have to do sanitation ourselves’)but it was explained that the water component is not actually about provision of boreholes etc, but that communities contribute to the water facility and that these activities are part of a wider community development programme in which communities are very much involved and active rather than passive recipients of subsidies or materials.

It was good to hear that in Niger, it has been found that CLTS helps to empower women. Previously, there were negative views of women taking leadership positions in some communities, but now there are many respected active female Natural Leaders.

Tomorrow, we will discuss some of these key issues in more detail, in smaller groups and in plenary. Hopefully, we will also have some good documentation of examples, case studies, ideas and sources for further information as an output from this.

Date: 28 February 2012