By Stephen Farshing, Global Communities – GBARNGA, LIBERIA – Last week in Bong County, the National Technical Coordinating Unit (NTCU) – responsible for setting Liberia’s national WASH guidelines – verified 29 new communities as Open Defecation Free (ODF). “What was originally just a short-term basic hygiene promotion has become another successful Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) project,” said Global Communities former Country Director Piet deVries to his country staff.
“This verification represents more than 100% of triggered communities,” said Global Communities Program Manager Michael Fogbawa. “We extend our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the entire Global Communities team for engaging these communities and helping guide them through the process.”
Last November Global Communities partnered with UNICEF to distribute household hygiene kits in Ebola-affected communities to combat the spread of Ebola and lay the groundwork for long-term prevention and disease resilience through healthy sanitation practices. After distributing over 4,000 kits in Bong, the Global Communities team decided to turn this six-month hygiene promotion project into a small-scale CLTS campaign and successfully triggered 27 Ebola-affected communities in mid-February.
“When we triggered these communities, we were the students and they were the teachers,” said Elizabeth Geddeh, Global Communities Rural WASH Manager. “CLTS completely depends on this relationship. You have to learn from them and let them identify their own problems and find the solution.”
With two Natural Leaders (NLs) from each village guiding the CLTS process from within, community members built a total of 159 latrines, 411 dishracks, 490 clotheslines and 107 garbage pits all with local materials and no external financial support. Most communities hold two or three workdays a week and fine community members who do not participate. That money is then used to buy other materials like cement. “Everyone benefits from this process,” said Temnieh Kerkulah, a Natural Leader from Ricks Farm. “Even those that don’t work and pay the fine still get a cleaner community,” she added.
After completing construction and going one month without open defecation, all 27 triggered communities – plus two self-triggered communities – were verified ODF.
The 58 NLs – the majority of whom are female – are now responsible for ensuring their own communities continue to be ODF and will begin triggering additional communities themselves under the new Partnership for Advancing Community-Based Services (PACS) Project.
At a workshop for the new NLs earlier this month, Geddeh told them what it means to be a NL: “Nobody appointed you. Nobody voted for you. You have volunteered to give a service to your community for free! This is something you care about and that is why you are Natural Leaders. You must be able to make people needlatrines. Let’s work together to make CLTS spread like a fire across Liberia!”
Building on the successes and relationships forged during the IWASH Program, Global Communities has now supported 313 communities in Bong, Nimba and Lofa counties to become ODF. Over the course of the five-year PACS Project, Global Communities plans to trigger an additional 1,300 communities for CLTS with the goal of 70% reaching ODF status.
The team has also identified over 250 border communities in Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount, Bong, Nimba and Lofa to implement CLTS and border surveillance activities with 50% targeted to become ODF by October. Triggering these communities will create a hygiene barrier that makes them stronger and more resistant to diseases like Ebola that often cross borders. Many of these communities have shared social, economic and cultural ties to Sierra Leone and Guinea so NLs will be encouraged to engage and trigger these areas as well, creating a buffer zone that protects both sides. “CLTS is an exit strategy for us [Global Communities] on the border,” said Geddeh. “Just because we don’t have any [Ebola] cases, doesn’t mean we sit back. We won’t be in these communities forever, but CLTS will give them the power to protect themselves in the future,” she added.
In rural Liberia, community law is often stronger than governmental law. For this reason Global Communities actively engages village elders, traditional leaders, pastors and imams, recognizing that working through the existing leadership structures in each community is vital. “We make the community feel important because they are important,” said Geddeh. “In CLTS, you must always stand for what you say and we have never forgotten that.”
Though the IWASH Program chapter has come to an end, CLTS is alive and well in Liberia. Global Communities hygiene promoters and WASH teams are now working harder than ever to see that it does spread across the country like the fire Geddeh described.