A household latrine constructed in Ariath, Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, in South Sudan. Photo: Tom Otieno
By Julia Kayser Frisbie*
November 6, 2014—For most of us, it’s hard to imagine life without toilets. But for about 2.5 billion people—35 percent of our world population—it’s a dangerous reality. The alternative to toilets is open defecation, which spreads disease. According to the World Health Organization, every year 1.8 million people, mostly children under five, die from diarrhea caused by poor sanitation—deaths that are preventable.
So, even though it’s a taboo subject, our global community has to address it. We can’t wait! That’s what World Toilet Day (November 19) is all about. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is seeking to help break the silence about unsanitary conditions in the poorest regions of the world.
South Sudan is one of these regions. Millions of people have been displaced by bloody civil wars that have affected the region since 1955. As a result, South Sudan, which became independent of Sudan three years ago, has very little infrastructure, especially in rural areas.
Since 2009, UMCOR has been working to provide basic sanitation through latrines in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state. According to the South Sudan National Bureau of Statistics, 96% of residents in Northern Bahr el Ghazal do not have access to a latrine.
Community-Led Total Sanitation
|Mike Barbee of UMCOR takes us on a tour of a brand new latrine in Nicaragua.
At first, UMCOR subsidized the construction of latrines in this region. But it wasn’t a very sustainable approach because it was so costly and people who used the latrines didn’t know how to maintain them. Today, UMCOR is using a different strategy called Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS).
“Community-Led Total Sanitation is built on the principle that social peer pressure and accountability to one’s neighbors is a huge driving force to change behavior,” explains Mike Barbee, technical officer for UMCOR’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) projects.
“First, people are brought together as a large group to walk around the community to point out where open defecation is happening,” he says, “all the while using specific taboos around open defecation to get people concerned about their health and the immediate need to do something. The facilitator asks them what they will do to solve their severe problem.”
This strategy is effective because it makes individuals accountable to each other, not to an outside group like UMCOR, Barbee says. People become “hygiene promoters” in their neighborhood.
“Culturally, it is taboo to discuss things related to disposal of fecal matter,” says Garana Deng Chan, a resident of Northern Bahr el Ghazal. “When the hygiene promoters first came to educate me on the importance of latrines, I told them I was not interested. I did not see the need to waste so much time constructing a latrine when I had an option that did not require financing [open defecation]. The following day they were at my door again. To get them off my back I sat down and listened.
“During their talk I grasped the importance of latrines. They educated me on the risks… such as diarrhea cases resulting from water bodies being contaminated with fecal matter, environmental pollution, and others. They also told me that it would cost me nothing but dedication and small labor to put up my own latrine. Five days later, I had a latrine in my homestead. Unlike before, my homestead now looks neat and clean,” Deng Chan says with a smile. “I am now living in a healthy environment. Thank you UMCOR for the good work!”
Help Break the Silence
|While the toilet may not be much on our minds, it is, in fact, a lifesaving device. Mike Barbee, UMCOR technical officer for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), shows us why in a new video.
Having latrines—sometimes for the first time in living memory—is cause for rejoicing. UMCOR is happy to celebrate with communities the successful completion of their CLTS projects and to underscore the huge change that good sanitation makes.
Help us break the silence this November 19 on World Toilet Day by posting about it on social media, organizing your own celebration, and saying thank you to your toilet. You can also help support UCMOR’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene programs with a donation to Advance #3020600.
UMC #GivingTuesday, Dec. 2
This year, Global Ministries will again provide matching grants, up to $1 million**, for online donations made to any project through The Advance as part of UMC #GivingTuesday, Dec. 2, “When Methodists Are United.” One hundred percent of gifts given go to projects designated by the donor through The Advance, The United Methodist Church’s giving channel.
For resources to promote and share UMC #GivingTuesday, click here.
*Julia Kayser Frisbie is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.
**Global Ministries will allocate the matching funds dollar for dollar up to the first $1 million in gifts to Advance projects received online on Dec. 2, 2014, between 12 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. EST. A maximum of $2,500 per individual gift to a project will be dispersed as matching funds. A project may receive a maximum of $25,000 in matching funds.