By Stephen Farshing, Global Communities – The Ministry of Health’s National Technical Coordinating Unit (NTCU) recently completed a tour of Liberia’s five border counties in which Global Communities is working to help people take responsibility of their own health and hygiene through Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS).
Global Communities’ Communications Officer accompanied Hattie Payweyne of the NTCU and Jeremiah Pewu of the Grand Cape Mount County Steering Committee (CSC), the county-level body responsible for overseeing CLTS, to verify 16 newly-triggered communities for Open Defecation Free (ODF) status.
In this interview, Payweyne and Pewu discuss their opinions of the successes, challenges and next steps forward for CLTS in Liberia.
- Global Communities: Why is CLTS currently seeing such a great amount of success in Liberia?
Pewu: CLTS creates an avenue for togetherness. People realize that CLTS helps pull them together after they see nearby communities using the process. A lot of these communities are far from health facilities and they see a decline in sickness when their neighbors accept CLTS. They want to see these same benefits.
Payweyne: Rural people in Liberia have a great amount of pride when they improve their lives. People are building their own latrines and they are proud to show that off. When other communities visit and see this, they want to experience that same pride.
- Global Communities: Beyond just improved health and hygiene, what are some other benefits that villages experience from CLTS?
Payweyne: CLTS adds value to their lives. They become free from foul smells and flies and are happier. They are proud and want to invite other people to their community when it is clean. When sanitation becomes part of your life, you feel better about other things. CLTS is now going beyond just building latrines also. People are using the momentum gained from working toward a common goal under CLTS to pursue other development projects.
- Global Communities: What is the biggest barrier you see that still prevents CLTS from fully taking off in the country?
Pewu: Many communities here, especially those that are on the main roads, have a history of receiving free things from NGOs. This has caused some feel that they should be given materials or subsidies to build latrines instead of using their own resources. For me that is a real barrier. They still expect subsidies from NGOs or the government. Those communities that are further from the main road do not face this issue as much.
- Global Communities: What are some differences that you see between communities that are successful in reaching ODF status and those that do not?
Pewu: It is harder for bigger communities to come together and collaborate while it’s much easier for smaller communities.
Payweyne: In traditional culture here in many communities, women are not encouraged or sometimes even allowed to speak up when men are talking. They are embarrassed if they really want to say something. Communities that let women voice their opinions usually see more success. This is also true for communities that have female natural leaders. These communities almost always become ODF.
- Global Communities: Could you talk more about how you deal with this issue of women not feeling confident to speak up?
Payweyne: Most of the time you have to organize a meeting with only the women to get the result that you want. If you meet with them and slowly encourage them they will tell you their own ideas and how they feel. If they do not respond during the triggering exercise, this is usually what we have to do. For example, women in one village felt ashamed to tell their husbands that they wanted a separate room to bathe in so we spoke with them separately and learned that this was an issue for them. One woman finally volunteered to tell the husbands but as she told them, her head was down. Then we began to clap for her and right there she grew more confident. This was a difficult exercise but the men finally agreed.
Pewu: I think you also have to have meetings with the men and encourage them to listen to women and invite them to take part in the discussion. The encouragement has to come from both sides. You also should try to approach both groups, especially women, from their own level. Do not overdress and use simple language they can understand so they feel confident talking with you.
- Global Communities: What does the NTCU need right now to become more successful?
Payweyne: We need an office space of our own so we can host events and conferences with partners and other government institutions. This would help us organize more effectively and improve our reach. We also need cameras for our field staff so they can better document our work for other stakeholders.
- Global Communities: What about for the County Steering Committee?
- Global Communities: What do you think the future of CLTS will look like in Liberia?
Pewu: I think that in 10 years-time, we will see CLTS take over this country. As you go out and see where we have done this work so far, you see other communities visiting ODF celebrations and wanting to engage in this process themselves. I really think it is a system that can spread throughout the entire country. But we also have to work hard to make sure this happens. We cannot sit back yet because communities will fall back if they are not monitored, especially in the early stages.
Payweyne: Liberia and its partners have added value to CLTS. We have real passion for it and this makes it possible. People have attached value and ownership to their latrines now because they know that it is for themselves. I believe that CLTS will begin spreading more on its own without us even having to trigger communities.
- Global Communities: How has your experience been working with Global Communities CLTS programs?
Payweyne: Global Communities has worked so well with the NTCU since the time they were CHF. They have understood our needs and identified with us and we ourselves have identified with them. Each time we meet with Global Communities, they are always willing to support us. We have an interest in each other because we are both passionate about CLTS. We will always be willing to be alongside Global Communities because we are working toward a common goal: for all communities to become ODF