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No more shit! Celebrating community achievements in Mulanje

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As part of CLTS, communities are recognized for their efforts and commitment to attaining Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. They are commemorated with a large ODF celebration, rewarding communities for playing a dedicated role in improving their sanitation and hygiene practices, and truly taking ownership over their health.

Plan Malawi in partnership with the Mulanje District health and sanitation stakeholders, had successfully implemented CLTS and supported their communities in becoming ODF. Organized by Plan Malawi, 4 villages, Kamwendo, George, Mawindo and Napweto, were being recognized. Given that the area was prone to diarrhoeal diseases and there had been deaths in the past due to cholera outbreaks, the celebration meant more than just speeches and dancing. It gave the community the feeling of pride and empowerment for reaching a goal that ensured taking care of their own development and providing a brighter future for themselves.

This is no ordinary celebration. A celebration such as this calls for important people, including the District Commissioner, a Member of Parliament, a Minister, the District Health Officer, and the Traditional Authority. This celebration was witnessed by the Malawi Government Minister of Information and Civic Education who also happens to be the Member of Parliament for the area. High profile government officials were also present and they included the District Commissioner, District Health Officer, District Environmental Health Officer and other stakeholders.

TA Juma addressing the crowd

After a two hour drive into Mulanje last week, my team and I reached Kamwendo village to witness our first ever ODF ceremony. Along with us were Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) from Phalombe, who were excited to take part in the ceremony and learn from discussions with their fellow HSAs.

Stepping through a field of mud as the rain lightly drizzled, we reached the community-constructed canopy under which we were to be seated. An excited crowd of community members from the celebrated villages walked proudly towards the seats, anxiously awaiting the opening remarks. The community members stood in anticipation, creating a concert-like audience around the seated invitees, colouring the scene with their fancy chitenje clothes.

Messages of “Titenge Mbali Popititsa Ukhondo Wa Mmudzi Patsogolo” (translated, “Take part in improving sanitation of our villages”) were observed everywhere, on t-shirts worn by the staff and banners strung across the stage.

A prayer and introduction later, the crowd was introduced to the guests by the MC. Traditional dancers appeared next – men and women in vibrant coloured chitenje were dancing to the own rhythm of their singing and clapping, the crowd gracefully joining them in song.

It wouldn’t be a celebration without a traditional drama skit. A comedic performance left everyone in laughter. Funny stories of community members getting caught open defecating, the use of community by-laws, and avoidance of building latrines by sneaking to the nearby school’s ground, were dramatically exaggerated performed.

Youth during role play

The event was topped off with the unveiling of the highly-anticipated ODF billboard commemorating the villages for becoming ODF! Placed at the side of the road for vehicles and passer-bys to see, the large sign boastfully displayed the communities’ achievement.

Unveiling the ODF sign On a personal level, the ODF celebration to me, represented the opportunity for learning and sharing. It was wonderful to see the HSAs from the Phalombe CLTS program engaged so intently in discussion with their fellow Mulanje HSAs. Taking out their pens and notebooks, the dedication for them to also drive their own communities to reach ODF was evident. Encouraged by the celebration, these HSAs not only found new hope and motivation in themselves, they also took away the importance of learning. The HSAs excited to get back to Phalombe to continue being the driving force and on-the-ground support for CLTS in their own district!

There was much absorbed from attending this celebration, but perhaps the most important take-away was the notion of always taking events as learning opportunities. It was priceless to see the extension workers discussing and reflecting together, learning from one another and feeling empowered to be part of something greater than themselves.

Tessa Roselli, EWB Malawi

Date: 30 January 2012