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We survived the war by working together and supporting each other – and we can do the same with sanitation! CLTS in South Sudan

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The boma chief said it all.  One of the youngest boma chiefs in the Torit County, he stood up at the end of the CLTS triggering meeting and told his community:

“Look, I’m just like you.  I’m no different.  I’ve been shitting in the bush since I was a small boy.  But I’m now full of shame because of what I’ve seen today.  We are all eating shit and getting sick.  This shitting in the bush or along the road has to stop – and I will be the first to take action.  Tomorrow I’ll start digging my pit – and you should follow me.  Everyone should build a toilet. I’m setting a target date – by 18th October, one month from today, we should all have completed our toilets.  If anyone fails to do so, he will bring shame on his house and will be fined 50 South Sudan pounds (US$9).  If I fail to build a toilet, I will pay a fine of 100 South Sudan pounds. My councillors will go house to house to check on you – and help everyone to get started. From today if we see you shitting along the road, we will warn you and check on how fast you are building your toilet. We should stop waiting for government and the donors to build us toilets. We can do it ourselves!  We will do it ourselves!”

This triggering meeting at Okulu Village was one of the practice sessions in a five day training workshop for CLTS facilitators held in Torit County, Eastern Equatorial State (EES), South Sudan in September 2014.  This area is slowly recovering from civil war and sanitation is one of the priorities of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure (MOPI) and the Ministry of Health (MOH), the two ministries responsible for water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).  MOPI and MOH are being assisted by NIRAS, a Danish consulting company who are implementing the Dutch funded ProWAS Water, Sanitation, and Integrated Land and Water Resource Management Project over the next three and possibly five years. 

The group of 22 participants consisted of village volunteers who were selected and trained to do triggering meetings and follow up household visits. Torit county has limited numbers of government extension workers and they are mainly based at the county level, so it was decided to create a new cadre of para professional CLTS workers who live in the villages and are in a good position to do follow up household visits.  Those selected had primary or secondary education and some experience working as volunteers on different development projects. 

We tried to get a good balance of men and women but failed.  It is difficult to recruit literate women in South Sudan. Very few women have completed primary school.  Women are viewed as farm labour, a mechanism for getting cows as bride price, and producers of children. Many fathers don’t want to send their daughters to school, thinking they will get pregnant and spoil their chances of getting married with a good bride price.  Those girls who attend school are often dragged out of school to chase birds or do weeding. However, the situation is gradually changing and an increasing number of girls are now attending school regularly particularly at schools with toilets for girls as well as for boys.  So those who did the selection did not give enough priority to involving women.

An important trigger for the workshop was cholera, a disease which plagues South Sudan in the rainy season.  In June-July 2014, for example, the hospital in Torit reported 136 people dying from cholera, and many others died outside the hospital without these cases being reported.  The loss of lives and loss of productivity because of this scourge became a major focusing issue during the workshop and advocacy meeting.  Hellen helped participants see that they waste lots of money paying for treatment for cholera – money which could have been better spent on buying tools and materials to build toilets, which would help to prevent cholera and other diseases associated with poor sanitation like typhoid.

The cholera epidemic helped to create an openness to talking about cholera and how to stop it.  The strongest argument came from the Medical Calculation Tool which asks villagers to calculate the costs of treatment for cholera and the time taken away from food production and loss of life and asks people to compare this with the cost of buying tools to dig and build a toilet.

One other factor was the political and administrative leaders in the area - payam administrators and boma chiefs. These leaders were briefed before the workshop and asked to help select trainees, then involved in the practice triggering meeting, and then invited to attend the half day advocacy meeting held at the end of the training workshop, where arguments for stopping OD and building toilets were made.  Some of these leaders took a strong position advocating for a change in practice – and also took a lead role in the follow up mobilisation.

Another big topic during the workshop was culture – the tradition of open defecation in this area.  The Lutoku villagers of Torit County are proud of shitting in the open. Many of them view shit around the house as a good sign, a badge of honour – it demonstrates that they are producing lots of food from their farming.  Lots of shit means that the man of the house has produced lots of sorgum, beans and ground nuts.  During our village meetings, however, many leaders and villagers themselves challenged this “tradition”, saying they had already adopted new practices to get rid of Guinea Worm and could do the same to establish a new culture of latrine ownership and use.  They said – “We survived the war by working together and supporting each other – and we can do the same with sanitation.  Neighbours can help neighbours and together we can do something.”

Resistance to change was also based on other cultural beliefs such as:

  • In-laws cannot shit in the same toilet (taboo)
  • Men don’t like to be seen entering a building to shit, it’s a shame!
  • Belief that if a woman uses a toilet she will not bear children (taboo)
  • Shitting in the bush has always been done by our ancestors so why should we change?

The Executive Director of Torit County, Mr. Cypriano Michael, said: “Look, I’ve always had a toilet.  I had the only toilet in my village and we had our community meetings on my plot because everyone could use my toilet.  And when I moved to Torit town the first thing I did was to build a toilet on the plot so the builders could use it while building my home.”

The Torit training program was the first of two training courses – one for Torit County and one for Kapoeta North County.  Kapoeta is a cattle keeping area on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya. The tribe there is Toposa.  When we first arrived in Kapoeta North, we were told that “Toposa men do not shit!” We didn’t challenge this directly, but instead asked questions to fish out the response that it is seen as shameful to be seen going for a shit.  Men walk a very long way from their compound to shit in order to disguise what they are doing.  Some even take a motorbike. So women are not supposed to know where men go to shit. One woman, Madelina, told us very directly:  “Oh, these men are all liars!  They shit every day, but they don’t want you to know it.  Me, I had a good shit this morning and don’t mind admitting it.”  Few people from Kapoeta North migrated to Uganda during the war – they stayed in Kapoeta. The Acholi and other tribes who moved to Uganda as refugees learned from the NGOs about the importance of toilets and hand washing, so these groups are much more open to the CLTS idea.

Both workshops started with three days of training at the workshop site where participants learned and then practised the triggering activities.  Then on the last two days the two teams moved to the village to run triggering meetings – in four different villages.  These meetings took a while to get started – villagers were in the fields weeding – but each meeting was successful – there was a good turnout and a good response.

Each of the triggering activities made a strong impression on people and by the end of the meeting people were saying, “Let’s do something.”  In Okulo Village, Imoruk Payam, Phillip Okee (the lead facilitator) said:  “I’m like you.  I have no toilet.  I have been shitting in the bush.  But I have decided to change.  Tomorrow I will start building a toilet. Hands up those who will follow me!”

Some villages had already received toilet slabs from earlier sanitation projects organised by other NGOs.  So in these villages participants asked for tools for digging. Phillip challenged this, saying, ”I have nothing to give you – my hands are empty.  If you wait for government or donors you may wait a long time and in the meantime more children will die.  What do you want to do?  Fold your arms and wait – or do something now!   We have hoes in our garden – they can be used to dig a pit.  You are already digging holes for burial.  What do you do to dig a grave to bury someone – where do you get the digging tools?”

Read more about the trainings, the triggering and the post-triggering follow up in the communities in Torit and Kapoeta North counties in this extended report

Date: 4 March 2015
South Sudan