Residents’ joy as village declared defecation-free zone

While the rest of the country is excited over the release of KCPE results, hundreds of residents in Magwede village in Voi Sub-County are celebrating being certified defecation free by the Ministry of Health.

The remote village in Kasighau location becomes first in the region to be declared a defecation-free zone.

Residents flocked to Sasenyi primary school where officials from the Public Health Department and Red Cross issued a defecation-free zone certificate after successfully fighting open-defecation practices for years.

Health officials have fiercely fought against the plague of open defecation in the village and its environs, and only recently managed the rare feat of convincing the villagers on the merits of using latrines.

This translated into 100 per cent adoption of pit latrines by over 150 homesteads in the village.

Laban Onchwari, Kasighau Ward Public Health Officer, said they have managed to transform over 900 Magwede residents, persuading them to overcome cultural barriers through adopting and use of latrines.

Speaking during the event to issue the certificate on Wednesday, the official noted that the declaration of Magwende as a defecation-free zone was a major milestone in boosting of hygiene and sanitation, while at the same time fighting against diseases like typhoid, cholera and dysentery.

The fact that we can now all go and use a latrine properly without feeling like we are breaking the law is an achievement that needs to be celebrated, he said.

For decades, retrogressive cultural barriers, crippling poverty and lack of awareness have conspired to deny thousands of residents in remote villages in the region access to latrines.

Cultural beliefs amongst the members of Magwede village have been cited as the biggest obstacle towards adoption of latrines. The residents hold that it is culturally reprehensible for a father to share a latrine with his daughter-in-law.

Such an act is considered abomination that would force a girl to be sent back to her father’s home to get a sheep that will be slaughtered in a cleansing ritual. The ritual would prevent bad omen and other tragedies from visiting the family. The girl would also be safe from getting complications while giving birth.

This has forced family members to relieve themselves in the bush. Even then, the bush is strictly divided with men having their own section and all women having theirs.

The more dignified villagers had walking sticks with sharp ends, where they could dig a hole and bury their waste. Young children picked up such practices from their elders therefore perpetuating the culture of open defecation.

As a result, bushes, roadsides and farms in the villages were dotted with piles of human waste that ultimately found their way back to the homestead either through drinking water or brought back by flies.

Such practices have over the years contributed to high levels of diseases related to hygiene and sanitation amongst the residents.

But since 2010, an aggressive campaign by officials of public health to adopt latrines and discard harmful cultural practices have paid off with now over 154 homesteads in the village having a pit latrine and an improvised wooden plank to cover the hole.

Dafton Kirigha, coordinator of Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) program in the region, termed Magwende a success story on achievements that can be realized when a community embraces change.

He noted that cases of diseases associated with poor sanitation have declined amongst the villagers.

He urged the residents to uphold the sanitation levels to ensure safety from diseases. He however said the Community Health Volunteers were still monitoring the situation to ensure there was no relapse to the bush.

We are delighted that we have reached this level. We don’t expect to hear cases of people going back to the bushes, he said.

Ecstatic villagers sang and danced terming the achievement as the proudest moment in the history of the 54-years old village.

In a candid confession, Ms. Wumazi Mwarua, 54, a Community Health Volunteer, said she was forced to fight open-defecation amongst the villagers after she bumped into her father-in-law deep in the bushes where he had gone to relieve himself.

She narrated how the encounter embarrassed her, forcing her to join forces with health officials who were educating the community on importance of latrines.

To make people change from going to the bush and instead use latrines is the biggest achievement we can brag about as a village, she said.

However, other villages feel that the Magwede success can also be attributed to the severe deforestation that has taken place in the bushes and forest around the village in the last five years.

Kazaka Ndoe, a resident, said wanton cutting down of trees had destroyed the privacy that was provided for when villagers were responding to calls of nature.

Having nowhere to hide, the open defecation was taken to gullies, with men and women being assigned theirs. This however was not as safe as the forests, and people were slowly forced to look for better alternatives.

Were it not for forest being destroyed, the health officials would still be struggling to get us to use latrines. Deforestation worked in their favor, Ndoe said.

Officials say the problem of open defecation is still far from over, as several other villages in Voi, Mwatate and Taveta sub-counties continue to report widespread cases of defecating in bushes.

The problem is also attributed to squatter problem, where most open defecators are either squatters in their land, thus they see no need to construct permanent latrines.

Source: Kenya News Agency