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Excitement and Learning at AfricaSan 3

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What better way to start off this new CLTS blog than with the excitement and buzz from AfricaSan 3, which took place in Kigali last week? We had four intense days of learning, networking and sharing experiences with many of the over 900 delegates that attended the conference.

Even in the run up to the conference it was clear that CLTS in Africa has come a long way since the last AfricaSan in Durban in February 2008. We got off to a good start with the pre-conference CLTS Sharing and Learning workshop. More than 70 people registered for it and we had to start turning people away! The number of different countries now implementing CLTS has sharply increased to 35 and we had at least 21 of those countries represented. And the fact that this included a large number of participants from government reflected that CLTS in Africa has moved into a different era – many national governments have now included the approach in their national sanitation policy and have developed a strategy for taking it to scale.

I felt invigorated by the enthusiasm and energy at the workshop. So much was shared and learned in one day! Since there were just as many experiences, innovations and successes as there were questions about key challenges, we focused on what participants had to share and what they wanted to learn. And in this way, we managed to match experiences and ideas with questions around key topics identified by all. So for example there were those wanting to share good practices used in going to scale and others who wanted to learn about scaling up. And so a conversation in plenary started and soon involved the whole audience. It was unstoppable and much more comprehensive than any powerpoints or group work could have been.

We discussed ways of getting government to not just buy into CLTS but to take the lead. There are now many good examples of governments taking the lead in CLTS scale up- out of the 13 countries that have adopted CLTS as national policy globally, 12 are in Africa. Several countries have recently launched big ODF campaigns (ODF Kenya by 2013, ODF Malawi by 2015, Northern Ghana to be ODF by 2012) and in some countries, eg Kenya, CLTS work and targets have been integrated into the annual operation plans of ministry staff.

We heard that in Sierra Leone, a Training Manual for Natural Leaders has been developed and that in Ethiopia, children and their teachers act as Natural Leaders in the SLTS approach used there, whereby children trigger, follow up and monitor in their own communities. This means that it is now possible to trigger 30-50 villages in one day; while it used to take two weeks to trigger a similar number of villages before.

I was particularly happy that we had a good long discussion about menstrual hygiene. At a CLTS training in Zambia in 2008 I had raised this question and challenged the participants to break the taboos around this (seeing that CLTS had broken the taboos around shit!) but was met by stony silence by the group (which consisted of 80% men). This time around in Kigali, I was happy to hear many contributions from men who clearly were not embarrassed to discuss this in great detail. We heard that in Nigeria, where many women use just one rag for the whole duration of their period, men would not eat the same food or be under the same roof, saying that women smelled bad. However, now, with a new menstrual hygiene programme that works with women’s groups to cheaply produce and disseminate washable menstrual pads, this is starting to change. Men have been found to be very supportive of the programme.

In the DRC, a system called ‘further educators’ has been set up to train young girls in menstrual hygiene and ensure that girls do not drop out when they start to get their periods. From Tanzania we heard that efforts are being made to raise awareness of different latrine options for different needs, including those of menstruating girls. This can include the need to include easily accessible bins for menstrual hygiene products in toilets. This can often be a big issue, as for example those working in the urban setting in Mathare, Nairobi reported.

Issues of inclusion and equity were a running theme in regard to all topics. And it was emphasized that this needs to be looked at more, but also that good facilitators will be innovative in finding ways to bring the communities’ attention to this aspect. Several organisations, including the SHARE consortium are carrying out research, advocacy and activities on equity and inclusion.

Frontiers of innovation such as adapting CLTS to urban settings and using GIS and Open Street Mapping as monitoring tools were eagerly lapped up by participants. Kenya had much to share on these topics (see the urban CLTS blog as well as Samuel Musyoki’s presentation at AfricaSan for more information). Given the trends about urbanisation and population growth and movement, we cannot ignore the urban context- yet many government strategies still only look at campaigns and strategies for scaling up rural sanitation!

Another emerging area for CLTS are post-conflict and post-emergency settings. CLTS has been introduced in the DRC and South Sudan recently. A major challenge in these contexts is the huge amount of subsidy programmes and the resulting expectations and dependency. Participants from South Sudan mentioned that CLTS can help with peace-building processes and I will follow up with them to perhaps get some case studies or a one pager on this.

All these exciting discussions and so much learning before the main conference had even begun! But the time in Kigali continued in the same spirit. It was great to see so many old friends and connections from the CLTS community and the broader sanitation sector in one place and to put faces to names of people with whom I have been corresponding over the years.

CLTS publications flew off our exhibition stall like hotcakes so that often, when returning to it after attending a session, the tables were clean! The latest additions to the repertoire of CLTS key publications were the bilingual CD-ROM version of the PLA Notes Tales of Shit: CLTS in Africa which, in addition to the English and French versions of the PLA Notes has other key resources and films in English and French on it. There was also Kamal’s latest paper, hot off the press, Digging in, Spreading Out and Growing Up: Introducing CLTS in Africa. WaterAid Nigeria’s new report Revitalising CLTS: A process guide was another welcome addition to the stall and was complemented by the materials that the large delegation of CLTS practitioners from Nigeria brought with them. Oh, and also our new website flyer of course- we are quite pleased with this new professional flyer which replaces the previous word document versions. Have you picked one up yet?

On the second day of the conference, we were lucky to have our session scheduled for the morning- all the afternoon sessions got cut short because the Rwandan president Paul Kagame who has been a champion of sanitation (and probably has much to do with the fact that Rwanda is on track to meet the MDGs) had decided to grace the evening’s gala dinner with his presence and the required security preparations meant that all delegates had to leave the venue mid-afternoon!

It was wonderful to see Sandy Cairncross from LSHTM receive a much deserved AfricaSan Award for lifetime service!

Our thematic session attracted a good crowd who were also eager to contribute from their own experiences, ask questions and discuss the issues and innovations that had been presented. We managed to cram a lot into our 3 hour slot- 14 presentations, covering 9 countries and a regional overview of CLTS in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as opening and closing remarks by Kamal Kar, Robert Chambers, Nilanjana Mukherjee, Susana Sandoz and Nicolas Osbert. And all very ably chaired by Archana Patkar from WSSCC, who managed to not only time-keep in a friendly manner (especially when time was running out towards the end and presenters had to really just stick to the essential messages!) but also add her own insights, comments and questions! If you want to know more about the presentations – they are all on the website now on our AfricaSan page.

Before I close now, let me encourage and invite all of you to submit posts for this blog so that it becomes another place for reflection, discussion, sharing, learning and connecting!

Date: 30 July 2011