by Hoby Randrianimanana
ANTSIAFABOSITRA, Madagascar – In 2018, the Madagascar programme of WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) reported it had helped 2.1 million people become open defecation free (ODF). The programme, Fonds d’Appui pour l’Assainissement (FAA), had also provided 3.7 million with access to sanitation and handwashing facilities.
In December 2019, FAA added to those numbers with the declaration of ODF status in three additional communes in the regions of Betsiboka and Boeny.
One of the communes is Antsiafabositra, where, in a celebration of its achievement, strong involvement of all stakeholders, from top to bottom, was echoed as instrumental.
According to Rajaonarimalala Felix, Vice Mayor of Antsiafabositra, it started when Avia Jereo ny Mahantra (AJEMA), a local NGO and sub-grantee of WSSCC’s GSF-supported programme in Betsiboka, challenged him to end open defecation within six months.
After accepting the challenge, the vice mayor said he called on local stakeholders such as fokontany chiefs, village elders, school principals, health workers, church leaders, and even law enforcement, to team up with his staff and AJEMA’s to conduct intensive triggering activities across the community.
Triggering is a process of realisation by communities that open defecation is causing them to unknowingly ingest each other’s feces, prompting them to improve their sanitation and hygiene behaviours, according to WSSCC’s “Equality and Non-Discrimination” handbook.
“On a few occasions, I delegated some of my office duties so I could go visit remote villages with the sanitation facilitators, and that helped trigger swift behaviour change among my constituents,” the vice mayor said.
During the celebration, Ernest Randriambelo, AJEMA’s Project Chief, highlighted the importance of collaborating with the local authorities during the campaign.
“Having them as allies guaranteed the success of our work,” said Mr Randriambelo. “That’s why the very first step we do in a community is to organise triggering sessions for local leaders. And we ensure everyone in the hierarchy is ‘triggered,’” he said.
Mr Randriambelo said that working closely with a local leader like Vice Mayor Rajaonarimalala was helpful as it inspired other local stakeholders and ordinary citizens to step up and take action.
Improve sanitation at a secondary school
Inspired by the sanitation movement, Rafanomezana Wilfred, Director of the Antsiafabositra collège d’enseignement général (secondary school), described how incorporating messages about the benefits of using latrines into discussions in the reproductive health class has contributed to the collective actions of the community to improve sanitation.
“Since our students are children of the community, they took it upon themselves to share and spread the messages to their parents and neighbours,” Mr Rafanomezana said. “They’ve become agents of change with the simple act of talking about what they have learned at school.”
Mr Rafanomezana said that following sanitation triggering at the secondary school, organised by AJEMA, use of school latrines has increased among students in grades 6 to 9, with female students even using them as changing rooms after playing sports.
He added that, with the increasing number of students using toilets, the two latrines currently available in the school are not enough for the entire student body of over 300 this year.
Such figures confirm the poor status of sanitation in schools in Madagascar where 69% of schools are equipped with limited sanitation service and 31% have no service at all, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report .
As part of a plan to sustain the habit of using toilets and maintain good hygiene practice, particularly among female students, Mr Rafanomezana has pledged his school will build two more latrines next school year.
Volunteer sanitation facilitators inspire positive changes
Instrumental to achieving ODF status in Antsiafabositra was the commitment of volunteer sanitation facilitators such as Rabemazava Louis who, prior to offering to lead the local sanitation committee, was just an ordinary senior citizen.
Aged 70, Mr Rabemazava said he spent the previous six months visiting every household in his community and helping people realise that defecating in the open causes them, unknowingly, to ingest their own faeces.
“Absolutely convinced that having and using a toilet is a basic human right, I felt that I just couldn’t stand by and do nothing. It’s human dignity that is at stake, so I volunteered, despite my family’s concern over my age and physical ability, to take on the role,” Mr Rabemazava said.
In Antsiafabositra, where people aged over 65 number only 159 out of 13,756 inhabitants, according to census data from the mayor’s office, Mr Rabemazava is hailed as a sanitation champion and has earned the respect of everyone in his community.
Malala Georgette Rasoanirina, another convinced resident of Antsiafabositra, talked about how she has used her experience as a community organiser with the Red Cross, along with her own writing and acting talents, to disseminate messages about the health-related risks of open defecation.
Ms Rasoanirina said she’s not part of any association or committee but simply an ordinary citizen, whose work as a street food vendor provided her with the opportunity to interact with a lot of people.
“I just share the same messages I learned from the triggering meeting with my customers and anyone I interact with,” Ms Rasoanirina said.
During the ODF celebration, Ms Rasoanirina recited a poem and performed a short skit, both of which she wrote. In her poem, Ms Rasoanirina highlighted how the local NGO had carried messages about good sanitation and hygiene practice without excluding anyone, rich or poor.
In the skit, Ms Rasoanirina played a mother with a child suffering from a diarrheal disease that couldn’t be cured by the local shaman. The mother visits a doctor who shows her how their practice of open defecation has caused the disease and how they can avoid it in the future.
“Using my talent is my own way of inspiring positive changes in my community, and I hope my messages actually impact people,” Ms Rasoanirina said.
Resolving issues to sustain ODF status
Asked about plans to sustain the commune’s ODF status, Vice Mayor Rajaonarimalala said he would urge all local stakeholders to keep encouraging the community to uphold good sanitation and hygiene practice and to perform systematic follow-up activities.
The vice mayor also said his office is working to resolve two major issues the commune is faced with that could potentially cause slippage: electricity and insecurity.
“People are afraid of walking far from their house when it’s dark outside, so they do their business wherever they feel safe. We have to ensure that situation doesn’t prevail,” the vice mayor said.
Talking about the link between safety and open defecation, Jean Marie Ratovoarison, a fokontany chief in Antsiafabositra, said turning his community ODF was made possible in part thanks to the presence of law enforcement (Gendarmes) who patrol until very late at night to ensure safety and to follow up on sanitation rule breakers.
Mr Ratovinirina said increasing the number of law enforcement officers working across the entire community is one way to help sustain the ODF status.
“Declaring a community ODF doesn’t mean our work ends there,” AJEMA’s Mr Randriambelo said. “We now have to work to ensure those communities preserve their status and then inspire others.”
Andriba, another commune in the Betsiboka Region that followed the path of Antsiafabositra, also became ODF last December, as had the commune of Mahatsinjo before it. Betsiboka’s three ODF communes, together with Androy Region’s four, comprise the areas where the WSSCC’s GSF-supported program in Madagascar has, so far, achieved the greatest results.
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