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Challenges and hope for CLTS in South Sudan

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Triggering in YambioEnthusiastic teenagers digging a pit
UNICEF and Plan South Sudan are working together to roll out CLTS in South Sudan. I have been supporting them to build capacity for CLTS implementation since April 2011. So far, a total of 5 trainings has been conducted in 5 states, namely Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Upper Nile, Western Equatorial and Western Bhar El Gazel. The trainings have targeted Plan and UNICEF staff and their partners, such as the line ministries and the national NGOs being supported by UNICEF. International NGOs working in the WASH sector have also been sending some of their staff to attend the trainings.

Introducing and implementing CLTS in South Sudan is not easy. The culture of dependency is deeply ingrained in Sudan (both in the North and in South Sudan) and it poses a big challenge to CLTS implementation. The communities are so much accustomed to handouts to a point that, even convening a community meeting under a shade of tree, is only feasible after assuring the community of lunch. The culture is not just with the communities alone, but it’s also very strong with the NGO staff, government extension workers and politicians who advocate for subsidies as a way endearing themselves to the communities.

It is also apparent that because most of Sudan has been dependent on emergency relief services for a long time, many NGOs programmatic interventions are modelled along ‘dishing out goods’ to the communities which serve their immediate and short term needs. Approaches such as CLTS which serve long term needs, and require continuous engagement with the communities are alien to most NGO staff. It is therefore common for them to be anxious about the introduction of a methodology that seems to call for a paradigm shift. Due to some of these challenges some people are now getting tempted to use ‘short cuts’ to get results. Indeed some of the NGOs that are supposedly implementing CLTS are giving out slabs and other latrine subsidies to motivate communities to construct latrines. Hence, advocating for CLTS in Sudan can be very frustrating as one faces challenges from all over.

Mapping in YambioMapping in Yambio
My take is that we need to be polite but firm, and not accept to dilute the no subsidy principle even when the pressure is overwhelming. We equally need to be patient and not be in a hurry to produce immediate results. It is better to take time and get it right, rather than rush and get it all screwed up! The foundation we lay now will have an impact on future CLTS activities in the country. It will determine whether CLTS will be implemented with quality or not. Whether implementation will adhere to non negotiable CLTS principles or not.

Enthusiastic teenagers digging a pitEnthusiastic teenagers digging a pit
I am satisfied that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Some of the villages that we have been working with are already showing good progress. During a recent visit, it was found that in one village, all the households had already finished constructing their latrines without any subsidy support. The reasons why ODF status could not be bestowed on them was that some of the latrines did not have pit covers, hand washing facilities were missing in some of them, and there were still issues related to the cleanliness of some of the latrines. Though these are critical issues that need to be addressed by the village, my point is that there is some progress taking place. For all households in a village to construct self made latrines without any external subsidy is not something to be taken for granted in Sudan. I have also been amazed to see how women have been at the forefront of starting the work of self made latrines, even amongst the most conservative communities where open defecation is an accepted norm. These courageous women inspire hope in me all the time.

I still vividly recall seeing a 60 year old lady who started digging her pit almost immediately after CLTS session in her village. When we visited her three days later, she had already dug about 10 feet deep. I took time to find out what was motivating her to dig her pit. She was very clear in her mind that the CLTS trigger had awakened her to the reality that they were ingesting each others shit, and she did not want to expose herself or her village to risk anymore. She was therefore determined to play her role to end open defecation in the village. In other incidents, I have also been touched by teenagers who have enthusiastically taken the task of digging latrines in their village following a CLTS trigger. They started doing this without asking for subsidies.

Digging for dignity in BorDigging for dignity in Bor
Some of the NGOs are also now taking a firm direction in implementing CLTS. I know of NGOs that are now hiring full time staff to be dedicated to CLTS work. I have also witnessed situations where some of the NGO staff were demanding harmonization of the sanitation policy in the country. They argue that the conflicting approaches where some NGOs continue to give out household sanitation subsidies are undermining their CLTS initiatives. There are also NGO managers who have spared time to be taken through CLTS orientation so that they can have the capacity to manage CLTS projects from a point of understanding what it is involved. All these are indicators that the seed of CLTS is beginning to sprout in the country. I therefore believe that even a country with strong dependency culture like South Sudan CLTS can still work as long as the practitioners remain focused, patient and determined.

Philip Otieno works as CLTS Coordinator for Plan International, Kenya.

Related blogs on this subject include
Tackling fear and scepticism: advice and examples from CLTS trainings in South Sudan

Is the non-subsidy approach feasible in South Sudan?

Date: 24 January 2012