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A learning journey to fight against slippage
PARAKOU, Benin – A resounding chant to never go back to open defecation echoes across the Beninese village of Sondi as a group of sanitation professionals pays a visit to help community members realize the positive impact of sanitation and hygiene on their lives.
“Mum, Dad, I don’t want to poop in the bushes anymore,” these were the words of nine-year-old Seidou at the village of 353 people, located in the northern Municipality of Péréré. Determined to put an end to open defecation, he led a community event, re-triggering 46 young villagers to review their sanitation and hygiene behaviours and understand how to live a healthy life.
During the community event, Seidou volunteered to translate the local language spoken by the community members. Acting as the bridge between the participants and facilitators, he stepped up to become a “natural leader” and will now move on to share the knowledge he acquired with more people in the community.
Natural leaders often emerge among community members while attending a triggering event like this. They are enthusiastic about the fight against open defecation and willing to take responsibility for making their village open defecation free (ODF).
Men, women and children can all be natural leaders. As Ms Mariétou Tamba, the Mayor of the Municipality of Péréré, stressed, it’s important to involve young natural leaders like Seidou.
“There’s still much to do for the future. Adults won’t make it all by themselves. It’s the children we need to involve. They are our future,” she said.
As a natural leader, not only did Seidou motivate other members but conducted monitoring for results.
The villagers of Sondi had achieved open defecation free status before but their effort to keep the village free from the unhygienic practice did not last for long and they went back into what sanitation professionals call “slippage.”
Slippage is used to describe the return to previous unhygienic behaviours due to the inability of some or all community members to continue to meet all ODF criteria.
Some residents of the Sondi village attribute their slippage partly to the threats to sanitation posed by climate change. Floods triggered by heavy rains have destroyed pit latrines, leaving some people with no option but to return to their old open defecation habits.
Others in the village cited financial constraints as one of the major obstacles to helping them reconstruct their latrine.
“It’s a cost, and it takes time to build latrines,” said one of the affected community members in the village of Sondi.
“We will make sure that the latrines that have collapsed will be reconstructed, and households that already have one latrine will construct a new one,” said a representative of the the village of Sondi’s newly formed Sanitation Committee, closing the re-triggering event with a promising commitment.
In February 2020, the sanitation programme in Benin, known as the Programme for Improving Access to Sanitation and Hygienic Practices in Rural Areas (PAPHyR), co-organized a learning exchange with experts invited from WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund programme in Madagascar to focus mainly on issues related to sustainability and improving sanitation and hygiene.
Spearheading this learning exchange is Dr Josea Ratsirarson, Director of Medical Care Development International (MCDI), who is based in Washington, D.C. He purposefully came to Benin to support the mission with his technical expertise.
“One way to look at the slippage is to think beyond the infrastructural measures we are implementing,” Dr Ratsirarson said during one of the debriefing sessions. “We need to refocus our sustainability strategy on maintaining empowered and motivated community actors, and liaise them to existing institutional structures that have the capability to coordinate sanitation activities.”
Dr Ratsirarson emphasized the important role of community-driven commitment to take control of slippage.
“Community leadership is crucial. As external actors, we cannot control all factors that bring a community to slippage,” he said, reiterating that natural leaders like Seido play a vital role in ensuring that community members own the process.
The Sondi village was not alone, facing the issue of slippage. Villagers of Moussoure in the Municipality of Nikki was expressing their reluctance to share toilets when Dr Ratsirarson and his team visited the village.
“I am tired of sharing my latrine!” said a community member during a re-triggering session.
“The availability of latrines represents a key step to sustain the open defecation free status. The community must review the overall situation, own its responsibility, and find solutions for all the villagers to access hygiene and sanitation facilities. Sanitation is everyone’s business,” said Dr Ratsirarson.
“We can’t go back to where we were before,” said the wife of the community leader of Moussoure. “We are fighting. For those households not having a toilet yet, we are, and we will keep on telling them to construct one,” she said. “They will, I am sure they will,” she added in a sincere expression of commitment to behaviour change.
Capitalizing on the experiences from the GSF-supported programme in Madagascar and elsewhere, Dr Ratsirarson and his team shared their expertise and skills to develop sustainability strategies and mitigate slippage concerns in Benin.
A powerful tool that was offered by the delegation from Madagascar to sustain and improve sanitation and hygiene behaviour is called “Follow up MANDONA.” This action-oriented method, a successful product of the GSF-supported programme in Madagascar, is often used in post-triggering follow-up visits to address fragile situations and help communities move up the sanitation ladder.
The sanitation ladder is defined by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. It starts at open defecation and moves upwards using the terms “unimproved”, “limited”, “basic”, with the highest level being “safely managed.”
In Benin, not everyone enjoys the benefits of good hygiene and sanitation. With a population of 11 million, of which six million still defecate in the open, Benin remains a country where a better-targeted and sustained effort is needed to move communities up the sanitation ladder. Only seven percent of the country’s rural population has access to basic sanitation, according to the WHO – UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report.
Although important gaps and major challenges persist, some villages have embraced sanitation and hygiene. This is what happened in the village of Boukoussera, as explained by Ms Dimon Awaou, the Deputy Mayor of the Tchaourou Municipality.
“The story of Boukoussera is an extraordinary success,” she said during a discussion at the Municipality.
Boukoussera is an excellent example of a rural ODF village, a promising win where the community itself leads sanitation progress. After PAPHyR’s intervention, the village achieved the ODF status in 2018, and it is now on its way to move up the sanitation ladder. Building on a good sense of hygiene already endorsed by community members, Boukoussera has taken the importance of sanitation and hygiene to heart. Villagers have constructed latrines with peer-to-peer support and a strong sense of responsibility to bring about change and improve everyone’s health. The community has embraced the newly formed social norms with a motivation to spread the message to neighbouring villages.
“We will use Boukoussera as our community of reference and rigorously engage with the other localities to ensure that by 2021 each village will achieve ODF status.”
“Open defecation in the Municipality of Tchaourou? Never again!” she stressed.
Deputy Mayor Awaou said that local governments also have a responsibility to create an enabling environment.
“We will achieve the Municipal Hygiene and Sanitation Plan by 2020 and add the issue of sanitation and hygiene to our weekly reunions with an increase of local representatives,” she said, emphasizing the intention of the Municipality to institutionalize sanitation and hygiene matters.
Adissoda Gbedo Yadjidé, Programme Manager for PAPHyR at MCDI Benin, explains that the lack of resources often represents a major challenge to the ability of municipal councils to support the promotion of good hygiene and sanitation practices.
“The sustainability of results attributed to sanitation and hygiene programs depends on the strong commitment of local governments that, in turn, depends on the support given by the central government,” said Mr Yadjidé.
“Time is now. We need to scale up our efforts in sanitation and hygiene. To achieve SDG 6.2 in Benin, the highest-level of political engagement is a necessary part of the equation,” said Ms Mariétou Tamba, Mayor of the Municipality of Péréré.