In Mkongani, Kilifi county, 42.7% of the population practice open defecation ritualized and bound in tradition. The behavior and attitudes are drawn from traditional beliefs and cultural values that resist the use of latrines in many circumstances. Likewise, gender and generational differences are decisive factors in planning and operating water and sanitation.
The reality is that there is poor sanitation and a lack of access to readily accessible water. Still, even when water is available, there are contamination risks, majorly due to open defecation. The implications of this lack of access to adequate sanitation and non-existent latrines, are widespread. Young children die from dehydration and malnutrition, resulting in diarrheal illnesses that could be prevented by clean water and good hygiene.
In the same breath, women and girls are responsible for finding this water resource that their families need to survive – for drinking, cooking, sanitation, and hygiene. They are subsequently prevented from doing income-generating work or attending school, as most of their day is often spent walking miles for their daily water needs. They are also at an increased risk for violence since they travel such great distances from their homes daily. Similarly, women and girls’ health and social needs remain primarily unmet and are often side-lined in circumstances where toilets in houses are not available.
For the champions Kaidza Komora, Daniel Birya, Nancy Mbodze, Priscilla Kambi, Leah Karisa and Stella Mwamure the sanitation situation is personal. They have committed their time and effort to ensure 100% proper sanitation and hygiene adoption in Kilifi county.
With initial training, which focused on education, blunt talk, and community self-help and support from Compassion, they set out on a rather ambitious attempt to change the status quo in their community. Their strategy is heavily pegged on overcoming taboos and cultural barriers rather than providing bricks and mortar. They also encourage the community to use locally available materials.
Five years later, they have improved many people’s sanitation and life chances in the Mkongani area. Currently, 90% of the community has adapted and champion WASH. The participation of the community members has been indispensable in sustaining progress.
Beyond the infrastructure, they encourage changes in their homes as well. They have adopted proper hygiene practices on how they clean and prepare food. Also, they are keen on other sanitation indicators like the use of hanging lines to dry clean clothes instead of spreading clothes on the ground.
Meanwhile, the champions also work at the local hospital as Community health champions. They support the county in community health follow-ups and check-ups.
It is remarkable to see the progress the champions have made this far. An estimated 1,400 children under the age of five die each year because of diarrhoea directly linked to a lack of access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. But we are happy to report that the champions are on track to change this.