Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Working together to stop open defecation in Bobonaro

Justino de Jesus and his family proudly showing his toilet.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/rpereira
Justino de Jesus (46) is living with his family in the mountainous village in Atu-Abe suco (village) of Bobonaro sub-district. The village is recently declared as open defecation free (ODF).

“We used to go to the bush for defecation, but since the beginning of 2016, after building this latrine with the facilitation of a local non-government organization, we stopped going to the bush and are using the latrine. All households in Atu-Abe suco have built and are using toilets. So now things have changed, and suco Atu-Abe is open defecation free,” says Justino de Jesus.

“The NGO Facilitator discussed with us the cycle of contamination of shit with food through flies, and we started to realise that it is true that we were actually eating our own Te’e (feces in local language) every day. Therefore we decided to build our own latrine. We used some money from our business of selling vegetables to build the latrine.”

“I can see the change, earlier my family members frequently suffered from diarrheal diseases, but now my family and community members in Atu-Abe village are getting fewer diarrhoea diseases,” says Miranda Mafalda, wife of Justino.

Working together

Several years ago, there had been an attempt to support several households in Atu-Abe suco to build latrines. But the support did not sustain any long term result. A Latrine Utilization Baseline survey conducted by the local NGO before July 2015 stated that over 72 per cent of latrines were not functioning and, only 28 per cent families’ reported that they were maintaining and using their latrines.

The community members of suco Atu-Abe promised to maintain ODF status
in a public meeting.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/rpereira
“We realized the issue was more related to behaviour and practices, than the supply. In consultation with the Suco Chief, we organised meetings with the community members explaining how the fecal materials contaminated water and food, thereby causing health problems. The meeting led to the formation of a Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) group,” says Luis Bere-Mau Tavares, Director of Servbfutilos, a local NGO working with UNICEF to promote stop Open defecation.

Initiating change

“After discussion (in the CLTS triggering meeting) it daunted on us  that we were more or less eating our own “Te’e”  by defecating in the bush and not washing hands with soap after using the toilet,” says Filomeno Alves, Youth Coordinator of Suco Atu-Abe. “In the past, many families did not use the latrine due to limited availability of water for flushing the toilets, and we used to go to the bush for defecation. Things have started changing after the meeting held in July 2015. 

Within a period of four months many households that did not have a latrine built their own latrine and started using them. The biggest achievement was in hand washing with soap, as all 215 households built or designated a place for hand washing and water and made soap are available for use.”

“By declaring our suco as an open defecation free area, suco leaders and I made a commitment to continually motivate people to maintain our villages open defecation free for forever,” confirms Filomeno, the Youth Coordinator of Suco Atu-Abe, who played an active role in promoting the CLTS activities together with the NGO team.

Filomeno Alves, Youth Coordinator of Suco Atu-Abe (first from right)
playing an important role to mobilize community members.
©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/rpereira
Sharing responsibilities

“Communities should collectively take the lead to make their villages open defecation free. Even the families that have and use latrines are not safe as long as their neighbours continue practicing open defecation.  We know that the pigs, dogs and flies have no boundaries and they contaminate food and water,” says Alfredo, the Bobonaro Municipality Sanitation Secretariat Coordinator while addressing the meeting with the villagers during ALFA/ODF Declaration Ceremony held on 18 May 2016. 

“CLTS is not about building a latrine, but about stopping open defecation and washing hands with soap at critical times so that we don’t ingest our own Te’e,” repeats Alfredo while interacting with community members. Atu-Abe community members are happy and promised to continue to maintain and use their latrines.
The community members of suco Atu-Abe promised to maintain ODF status
in a public meeting held on 18 May 2016.  ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/rpereira
Changing practice

“Children of Atu-Abe have immensely benefited from the CLTS programme. Now they have a toilet and hand washing facility in their school, while they also enjoy same type of facilities and comfort in their homes. Since the beginning of the CLTS activity in our sub-district in 2015, the intestinal diseases among children have gone down, a fewer number of children come to the clinic with diarrhoea complaints,” says Dr. Agapito Bere Sai, the Chief of Community Health Centre of Bobonaro Sub-district, Bobonaro.

“In our family, everybody now uses the toilet and wash their hands with soap after using the toilet,” says Jenilde Henriques, a 10-year old 4th grade student. “In school, teachers teach us about the importance of hand washing with soap after using the toilet, and at home, my mother is very particular about it. We make sure to always have a bucket of water and soap in the latrine, and it is very convenient for me to wash hands,” underlines Jenilde Henriques.
“In our family everybody uses the toilet and wash their hands with soap after using toilet”,
says Jenilde Henriques, a 10-year old 4th grade
UNICEF in partnership with the government and other partners provided support to the Bobonaro Municipality ODF Initiative in scaling up CLTS during period of July 2015 – June 2016. Out of 50 sucos in Bobonaro, 48 are open defecation free as of   December 2016, among them 18 are supported by UNICEF and local partner NGOs (Etadepe and Servbfutilous). UNICEF is also closely working with other sanitation partners such as World Vision and BESIK to promote health and hygiene practices in Timor-Leste.

By Rodolfo Pereira, WASH Officer, UNICEF Timor-Leste

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