For Wellington Nkhoma, communities have always been at the heart of his work.
As a trained community facilitator who has focused on behaviour change and HIV/AIDS, malaria and maternal-child health, Wellington believes his role is to simply ask questions that will provoke thought and an understanding of risk that can lead to change.
“Our work as community facilitators is to guide the conversation on hygiene, and the consequences of open defecation,” says Wellington, who joined Pump Aid in August 2013 as part of Pump Aid’s DFID-funded project and now coordinates the facilitation team. “But it’s up to the village to make the commitment to end risky practises. We ask the questions, but the responses need to come from them.
Questions like ‘Where do you go to the toilet? And what do you do? What happens after? Do you wash your hands?’ prompt villagers to open up about their daily practices and to consider the potential consequences.
Amelias, another Pump Aid facilitator, and Wellington visit each village across Mchinji several times to lead hygiene and sanitation discussions, and to check in on their progress. In the villages of Namizana and Kapanga, also in Mchinji, initial triggering meetings were followed up by the team with reaffirmations by the communities to end open defecation and ensure better hygiene and sanitation. Time will tell if they are able to make good on their promises.
Amelias studied preventive health for three years, and fell in love with community facilitation by chance. “I just love it; I interact with communities and different cultures, and I am learning a lot,” says Amelias, who believes success can be measured by the number of clinic and hospital visits. “If we work hard and no one gets sick, there will be no work for doctors!”
In these villages, like others across Malawi, women sit together silently, some balancing babies in their laps, apart from the men. Following traditional gender expectations, they only speak when they are given permission or asked a question directly, yet women are responsible for all domestic water responsibilities and hygiene-related activities. It is therefore critical that women not only take part in, but also lead, decisions on hygiene and sanitation. In the successful village of Chinkono, women were involved in decision-making and several served as part of the volunteer committee to lead households to better practises.
Pump Aid’s community facilitators are now going above and beyond their work in behaviour change and hygiene and sanitation. They are also supporting initial pump site identification and well as conducting training with communities on pump maintenance, to ensure local ownership and sustainability. Their role in Pump Aid’s mission will continue to expand along with the scope and breadth of services we provide to rural communities in Malawi.
“Our work as community facilitators is to guide the conversation on hygiene, and the consequences of open defecation.”