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Benon Rukara Ndemere works in the Uganda Prisons Service as Senior Environmental Health Officer and has been a member of WSSCC since 2009.
Here, Benon tells WSSCC about his motivations, achievements and hopes for the future.
In a nutshell, what do you do?
My role within the Uganda Prisons Service is to influence policy to ensure prisoners and prison staff and their families, who often live on-site, are provided with accessible, adequate, functional, gender-sensitive sanitation and hygiene services.
What gets you out of bed every morning?
I see prison time as an opportunity. My passion is to make a difference in disadvantaged people’s lives by empowering them with good sanitation and hygiene knowledge and practices while they are in custody.
All prisoners know that hygiene is an essential part of staying healthy. They learn that hygiene is as important as food in keeping them well. They participate in good hygiene practices while they are in prison and when they go home, they become change agents in their communities.
What do prisoners tell you?
The reaction of inmates has been very positive. The old system was dilapidated and unsafe. This was the ‘night soil’ bucket system that used to be widespread in Uganda’s prisons.
Now, most prisons have good quality sanitation and hygiene services, with flush toilets connected by plumbing to septic tanks, which are regularly emptied. Part of my job is to ensure that WASH is integrated into any prison renovations and in the building of new facilities.
4% of prisons still use the night soil bucket system and the plan is to eliminate that practice as soon as possible.
When you look back on your career, what will you be most proud of in terms of your sanitation and hygiene work?
When I retire I’ll be most proud of influencing the Uganda Prisons Service management to prioritize and invest in sanitation and hygiene.
When I joined in 2009, the burden of poor sanitation was heavy; diseases such as scabies, dysentery, diarrhoea and red eyes were rampant. I am very proud to see that currently such diseases have become rare among prisoners, staff and their families.
I will also be proud that more professionals became interested in working with prisons, which was not the case before I joined.
Tell us a good example of the benefits of being a member of WSSCC
I feel lucky to be part of the WSSCC network because it empowers me to do my job and I learn new approaches from around the world.
I have been trained by the Ministry of Health as a national community-led total sanitation (CLTS) facilitator. In turn I have trained colleagues from organizations like World Vision Uganda in CLTS and participated in triggering communities to take action to improve their sanitation situation. It is so inspiring to see people self-actualize in this way.
The Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF) will soon be launching. In the next five years, what difference do you hope the Fund will make in your country?
We still need a lot of effort to cause a revolution in sanitation and hygiene promotion in Uganda. I appreciate the birth of the SHF. I’m sure it will be a blessing for this country.
Funding for sanitation and hygiene has been scanty. Organizations cannot intervene, train, reach out, build – they can’t do much at all. SHF will offer a big contribution. It will trigger action in expanding coverage.
We need to treat prisons as we do regular communities. 100,000 people leave prison every year in Uganda, through being released or by being on short-term remand.
If the SHF can help us make prisoners into sanitation and hygiene advocates, this will go a very long way in changing toilet culture in Uganda.