On the Subject of Sanitation…

Disclaimer: Even though I am working in the WASH (Water and Sanitation and Hygiene) Sector in the Malawi, I know very little about the technical aspects since the project I am working on is about managing finances. Therefore, the most I can do is to pass on the personal knowledge that I’ve acquired from my firsthand experiences and in conversation with people.

(ODF) Open Defecation Free

This is a term I’ve heard around which means that a community is free of open defecation (aka people pooping in the bushes). Personally, I’ve never actually seen any human excrement anywhere other than in a latrine so I think everywhere I’ve been in Malawi have been ODF. Animal excrement is another story.

CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation)

One of the places in Chikwawa where I have collected data is a place known for its CLTS. This means that the community has taken great initiative to have total sanitation. ODF is a given and they not only have latrines but may have upgraded latrines (the definition of which is contentious) among other sanitation achievements.

Hand Washing

Washing hands is a big thing here. Before every meal, people always wash their hands. But the thing is, culturally, people wash their hands with only water. This is an aspect that I’m still struggling with in my village life because I have a sensitive stomach. My host family uses soap for other things but only washes their hands with soap before a meal if I suggest it. From travelling around and talking to people I’ve realized that it is a pretty prevalent cultural norm despite knowledge of hand washing hygiene.

Today’s Culture Shock: Part of the process of helping a community become ODF involves the activity of “triggering.” It’s essentially a shaming activity whereby human defecation found in the village and some type of food are displayed for the community. Flies travelling from the poop to the food is supposed to help foster understanding that open defecation leads to the equivalent of “eating your own shit.” Regardless of how you feel about this shaming process, it does work, indisputably.

Safe Drinking Water

I drink tap water in Malawi. I don’t think I’ve yet been to a place where my only water source has been compromised. My untouched supply of aquatabs can attest to that. Some rural villages may have issues of salty borehole water but even salty water can be safe to drink if it is diluted enough. The only complaint I have is that water is available inconsistently because it is frequently turned off but that’s another issue.

Today’s Culture Shock: As the dry season is coming to an end in Malawi, the levels of the Shire River are getting lower. It also means hydro electricity is in a bit of jeopardy and so the rationing has begun. The country is exclusively reliant on hydro which means that power outages have been more frequent than usual. Also meaning our tap runs dry more often as well…

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7 thoughts on “On the Subject of Sanitation…

    1. Nope. I also never used a single aquatab. The water in my district was known for being slightly salty but I didn’t really notice so I guess ours was diluted enough.

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      1. Even back here in Canada boiling water’s been needed for rare cases of contamination. I guess it just goes to show the stereotypes of people facing much worse problems there might be blown out of proportion. (Just like, say, homelessness.)

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  1. Confession time: I haven’t been keeping up with you blog for since your MPR (sorry 😦 ). What data did you end up collecting in Chickwawa? (I remember you posting about collecting field data some time back. If you mentioned why after then, I must have missed your post.)

    And is that data going to help WASH Catalyst as a venture, or someone else? The government? Another local actor? I clearly have no background, so I’m just confused who might want field data when doing their finances.

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    1. The data is to help one of WASH’s partners – the Chikwawa District Water Development Office. That was where I was based. It’s a government department. I was collecting data to help with monitoring established VSLs at water points for the future of other VSLs to be trained. I also did some baseline data collection for M&E purposes.

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