Among the many communities where Pump Aid works, Chinkono is one of the most remote, more than 20 kilometres past perfect rows of maize, tobacco, and groundnuts; ad-hoc stands of tomatoes and speckled mangoes; and all kinds of livestock: chickens, guinea fowl, cattle, and goats, running amok or sleepily resting in patches of grass. Finally the village appears.
Walk around Chinkono and you will see evidence of improved hygiene and sanitation practises: hand-washing stations outside latrines, elevated dish stands made of tree branches, covered bowls of food and buckets of water, and pits to burn rubbish.
Changing the closely held and often deeply entrenched habits of a single person is difficult enough, changing the habits of an entire village can seem insurmountable. Showing real commitment and leadership, however, can help tip the scales toward behaviour change that leads to better health and well being, and in particular, to end open defecation, the practise of using the open as a toilet.
Wellington Nkhoma, who coordinates Pump Aid’s community facilitators, calls Chinkono a “model” for the many other villages where we are promoting better hygiene and sanitation practises.
There are always a few people who resist changing their habits, he explains. “To be successful, the entire village must commit. You need a strong leader in the village chief and the willingness of the community to support each other. If one person is still using the bush as a toilet, then it won’t work.”
Invited by Chinkono’s village chief, Wellington and Amelias, another Pump Aid community facilitator, visited the village, home to 26 households, for the first time in October 2013 to discuss better hygiene and sanitation. Based on a combination of several popular approaches, including Community-led Total Sanitation, or CLTS, Pump Aid’s health promotion project puts community empowerment at the forefront of behaviour change; it recognises that universal commitment, mutual support and collective action are essential to achieving positive changes in perception and behaviour.
At the close of the first meeting in Chinkono, known among experts as “triggering,” the entire village publically committed to implementing better hygiene and sanitation practises: constructing individual latrines for every household, washing hands after defecating, storing dishes and food on an elevated rack to prevent contamination, and using a two-cup system for drinking water, for example.
Verbal commitments are common following a triggering meeting, but the reality after several weeks, even months, proves that achieving real behaviour change is difficult. In the case of Chinkono, the entire village had achieved complete hygiene and sanitation improvement in just 14 days.
A common practise in rural Malawi is for families to share the same basin for washing: First the father washes, followed by the mother, then at last, the children. When entire families wash with the same water, it is easy to see why children are often sick with diarrhoea and other preventable waterborne illnesses.
When villages like Chinkono show remarkable progress, it is also a powerful reaffirmation for Wellington, Amelias and other Pump Aid community facilitators committed to supporting life-saving behaviour change in rural communities.
“I love my job, I love what I am doing,” says Wellington. “Most of all, I like the satisfaction I get when I am able to make a difference in people’s lives.”
“I love my job, I love what I am doing. Most of all, I like the satisfaction I get when I am able to make a difference in people’s lives.”