WAJIR, Kenya – Think about your home without a toilet.
Now, think of the flies that float around your room, and its serious harmful impact on your health as a catalyst of oral-fecal transmission.
That was the life for many people who practiced open defecation in Qahira Village, Wajir County in Kenya, because that had been the commonplace practice for generations. Mohammed Adan, a 40-year-old, says the plot of land he lives on today used to be a place of open defecation.
However, the same space was also used as a playground where children had played frequently, not knowing that it was contaminated with feces, exposing them to diseases. “No one stopped these kids from playing on this ground because they didn’t know the risks, they exposed their children,” Mohammed says.
In order to relieve themselves, men and women would invade the nearby bushes under the cover of the night. But the women and girls were shy and often feared being seen defecating in the open. “If a woman saw someone around before she finished her ‘job,’ she would just stand up immediately and go on her way, leaving the work half done, which was very humiliating.”
Some other women and girls preferred to spend their time searching for a ‘private space for open defecation’ that the locals curved away from the prying eyes of men and boys. But, as Mohammed explains, the journey to private space came with potential risks as “most of the time the women left their young ones behind and were often worried that the children might get lost.”
Today, Qahir is one of the villages declared free from open defecation thanks to interventions rolled out by the Kenya Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Programme (K-SHIP), which is funded by WSSCC. Every household has a latrine and people have both freedom and convenience to use their toilets without threats and risks of diseases.
“I would never have thought of building a pit latrine even in the next 50 years,” says Mohammed. He is grateful to K-SHIP for constructing pit latrines in Wajir county.
He says pit latrines in his village have changed the lives of many people. “We no longer fear the daily humiliation of open defecation, but most importantly, we now understand the value of a toilet to keep children healthy from diseases such as diarrhea.”
And Mohammed is not the only one who is happy.
Farhia Issack is a 27-year-old mother of two from Qahira Village, Wajir County. Farhia and her husband were the first people to build a latrine in their village after it was triggered last year. “I was not happy seeing fecal waste lying around, and this is how my husband and I decided to make a change.” She says that as soon as they learned the negative impact of open defecation, her husband rushed home and started digging a hole to build a latrine.
He covered it with sticks and rags to improve privacy and later installed a handwashing facility just outside the pit latrine as the couple now understood the importance of proper handwashing with soap, and the role it played in preventing hygiene-related illnesses.
Farhia says her life has improved and she no longer has to go to the bushes or waste her time looking for a private hideout to defecate in the open. She is also pleased that the initiative to change behaviour and build latrines came from within her fellow villagers and they actively encouraged each other to construct their own pit latrines.
For Mohammed and Farhia, a pit latrine is not just a toilet. It changed a life of an entire village.
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