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Let's talk about shit!

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Our Clear Voices Channel 4

What a way to mark the World Toilet Day (19th November 2011) it was. After working with colleagues to have our clear voices put through different media channels, I could only keep track online. I had to ask a colleague to step in for the Good Morning Kenya TV talk show as it was moved to the morning of the day I had to travel. On the 18th November 2011, just before I set off to Jomo Kenya International Airport I had an opportunity to attend a children concert entitled, “Our Clear Voices: Channel 4”, organized by the school my 7 year old daughter attends. The setting was a TV show hosted and presented by children covering a whole range of issues. These included exhibiting children talents and focused on themes such as child protection and safety, conserving the environment and coincidentally sanitation and hygiene which my daughter had to report on along music and dance on hand washing with soap, reduce, reuse recycle and putting your garbage in the right place. Of course nothing about toilets. However, it was implied that one of the key moments for hand washing was after using the toilet.

Seizing a golden opportunity
The show on sanitation hygiene was my moment and I felt I needed to say or do something. I turned to my wife to seek approval for what I was about to do. Though unsure, she seemed to approve it. Most likely she knew this was my passion and it was unlikely she would convince me to drop the idea. I wrote a simple message to the head teacher at the back of the program:

“Amazing that the children’s presentations highlighted the subject of sanitation and hygiene. Tomorrow (19th November) is the World Toilet Day. 2.6 million People still without access to a latrine and 1 billion people answering the call of nature in a bush. As a result many children die of preventable diseases”

My wife read it and gave me the assurance that it was fine. I then walked to high table where the head teacher was, whispered the message, she nodded with approval and was excited too. I then handed over the note. Sure enough when she was done reading her speech, she took my note and read it word for word. Almost none of the over 2,000 people gathered in this event had heard of World Toilet Day. I had just managed to add an important day to the school’s calendar and those of the Children, parents and friends. My daughter teased me at the end saying, ‘Dad I knew the message was from you even before my teacher read it. We have been talking about these things at home -haven’t we?’ She thought I had done a great job. I thought to myself that even though I may not have the boldness to ask the airline crew to announce World Toilet Day on my long flight to Melbourne, I had already communicated the message in a context where it mattered most.

The media and open defecation

The evening before the children’s concert, I had gotten a message from Caroline Wahome, our Plan Kenya Media Advisor that one of the daily newspapers had found the images we had submitted for a new paper advert inappropriate. Their argument? Our paper is family friendly and we have to censor some the visuals you have presented as they are too explicit (see the image here (images designed by Ali Yusuf Mwatsahu, Kwale County). I called up to speak with the salesman and I asked him what they found inappropriate. ‘You see the thing (shit) coming from the bottoms is too much’ he said. ‘I am a reader of your newspaper and I have seen you put sexy/suggestive images in your weekend magazine, how come you have difficulties putting an image of someone defecating in the open?’ I asked. ‘Let me talk to the content controller and ask her to speak with you tomorrow’ she suggested. Our media officer forwarded me the sanitized advert The bottoms are covered. We agreed they would give us the unedited version of the same. When I saw the draft newspaper supplement articles which we had submitted to another newspaper, they had adopted the uncensored pictures and I was encouraged- but was it published?

Sanitised sanitation?
After the long journey to Australia I was really tired. I woke up after 10. After breakfast I logged in and was eager to catch up with the World Toilet Day news in Kenya. I found an interesting story from Mathare 10& a great read and clear indication that CLTS has now gone beyond the rural application and is working in urban informal settlements. But I was also hoping to see coverage on the World Toilet Day Celebration in Siaya where the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation marked the day, and the newspaper supplement we submitted to the same newspaper. The article entitled, Where do you shit? What a question? I could not find online. Could they have decided to drop it last minute? I will find out from our media adviser. What is strange is that the author of the Mathare 10 piece had used a picture we had submitted with the article which I took in Kilifi in 2009 and unashamedly claims its ownership

The media has a long way to go in appreciating transformative ways of communication. It would seem sex sells and shit does not! However some journalists are beginning to appreciate and see shit stories as newsworthy or important for that matter. However, there is need for them to be exposed to where the action is so as to capture the stories first hand. They need to be exposed to Community-Led Total Sanitation and be triggered so that they can report effectively. They seem to see value in the stories written by CLTS practitioners. Some times they misrepresent the facts and some time they want to claim ownership of the stories from the comfort of their media houses without ever stepping in the field and experiencing the realities. If there are journalists out there interested in Tales of Shit we would like to invite them to Community-Led Total Sanitation hands-on training and triggering sessions and they can accompany and document experiences of communities on their journey to open defecation free status as we move towards an ODF Rural Kenya in December 2013.

Celebrations in Siaya County
I am eager to hear how activities in Siaya unfolded. My colleagues, Philip Otieno and Frank with the Vitimbi comedy groups had been engaged in a series of activities and the climax was the 19th when they were joined by colleagues from the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation to mark the day.

Date: 21 November 2011