Open defecation free village brings health and pride to Benin Community

At the onset of the first rains, villagers of Kaoukahou in Benin have seen many of their children suffer from a series of diseases. But not this year. A significant attributable change: all of them stopped defecating in the open.
Alain Tossounon
Villagers raised their hands as a sign of commitment to end open defecation

“Our little children suffered from fevers, diarrhoea and vomiting in the rainy season, but this year we did not see this,” says Ms Lamatou Katcho, a resident of the small village, as she appreciates the positive impact of ending the unsanitary behaviour.

But Ms Katcho explains that the road to the open defecation free (ODF) village was not easy.

Kaouhahou is a small community of 164 people on the outskirts of the town of Copargo in the western part of the country. In fact, the village had been already declared free from open defecation in June 2017 after constructing six communal latrines, each of them equipped with handwashing facilities.

However, these communal latrines collapsed, and villagers returned to the practice of open defecation.

Although they had been educated about the risks of unsafe sanitation, changing their behaviour was too much of a burden partly because they did not have the means to repair the latrines. It was simply easier to return to earlier practices.

Family shows off newly constructed pit latrine
Family shows off newly constructed pit latrine. ©WSSCC/Alain Tossounon

A line was crossed, however, when a small child in the community defecated in the open space in front of the local mosque.

The programme body funded by WSSCC, known as PAPHyR (Programme for Improved Access to Sanitation and Hygiene Practices in Rural Settings), has been conducting activities to end open defecation in Benin since 2016.

Upon hearing of the situation in Kaoukahou, sanitation professionals from PAPHyR returned to the village in February 2020 to assist the community in instituting lasting behaviour change and regaining their ODF status.

The facilitators carried out a number of re-triggering activities to remind inhabitants of the importance of safe sanitation.

One of these activities included the demonstration of oral-faecal contamination when flies alight on faeces and then onto food, which community members consume, or when chickens peck at poop on the ground and then at the food on poorly closed plates.

Ms Kadri Agouraimi, one of the local councillors, said, “After [taking part in] the re-triggering session, I couldn’t sleep,” adding that she no longer wants to consume food that has been exposed to faecal contamination.

Local children agreed. “My job, along with my classmates, is to tell our parents to build latrines so that we don’t eat our poop,” explained Fati Kadri, the chair of the children’s advocacy committee.

Other re-triggering activities included having members of the community select allies to help spread the message, and using rugby as a tool to bring the village together. Everyone had a role to play, as Iamatou Yassi points out: “I am the one who mobilizes the women. I bring them to buy the pots for the children to prevent them from defecating in the yard or behind the houses.”

Pride also was restored along with the new latrines and improved behaviours. “Our privacy is respected now because we have the latrines and we no longer go in the bush,” Ms Katcho added.

After the child’s poop in front of the mosque was removed in front of the assembled community, the local sanitation and hygiene committee was reinstated and presented to the group.

Mr Bonaventure Degue, PAPHyR’s Area Coordinator, says that the key to ensuring that durable behaviour change lies in the quality of the facilitation and the accountability of the community, as represented by the sanitation and hygiene committee.

As WSSCC evolves into the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund, increasing and improving household sanitation is one of the fund’s four strategic objectives, along with safe sanitation in schools and health care facilities, menstrual health and hygiene and innovation in sanitation.