Impressions from ODF verification in Magwi, South Sudan

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Last month a team from SNV together with the State Ministry of Physical Infrastructure (SMOPI) of Eastern Equatorial State visited Magwi County to conduct an Open Defecation Free (ODF) verification for 6 villages. A walk through the villages and interaction with the communities revealed the tremendous transformation that had taken place since the introduction of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). This has renewed hope and enthusiasm in the potential CLTS in the State which was faltering at some stage. The exercise saw 6 additional villages declared ODF in the Country. The villages are Lobure Central, Amika, Omeyo, Moi-Ocikwira, Nyongwa and Sau. The communities concerned were visibly motivated with their achievement.

In one of the villages the verification was welcomed by a big number of residents carrying a banner proclaiming their village to be ODF. The residents welcomed the team with song and dance. Their passion and lyrics in their song demonstrated a firm belief in good hygiene practices. One of the songs had the lyrics SNV tii UNICEF tro eji amani lini ra dria ama kare oe peler, andrani eze si ama ize uze angwe. In English this translates toSNV and UNICEF have enlightened us. In the past we have been defecating in the bush, but now our village is clean and beautiful and there is no more eating of faeces.’

The households were excited to welcome the team to their compounds and show them their newly constructed latrines and hand washing facilities. It was clear that this was a truly community driven process in which they took ownership of their efforts. It was ‘no longer business as usual’ where households in the past constructed latrines to make development agencies happy or in order to get certain goodies or favours from the authorities.

The households constructed the latrines because they believed in the inherent benefits of living in a clean and hygienic environment. In Moi Ocikwira village, Beatrice, 26 year old mother of 4, told how she and most of her neighbours used to defecate in the bush. ‘The triggering inspired me to pressure my husband to construct a latrine. My husband was not there during the triggering, but I told him what happened and persuaded him to construct a latrine for the family,’ she said. She added that since then her family has been using a latrine and they have no plans of going back to the bush. She further said that, ‘I would rather allow a passer-by to use my latrine than see them defecate in the bush. I learnt how we were eating each other’s shit, and I don’t want to go through such disgusting experiences again.’  Beatrice family and other families that were visited had made great strides in hygiene practices. They all had a dish rack for drying utensils, a bathroom, and a hand washing facility. Apart from defecating in a latrine they also practiced hand washing after visiting a latrine.

The commitment of the villages to stop open defecation was simply amazing. For example in Moi Ocikwira village, the former open defecation site was now being used as a garden for growing sweet potatoes, and another site had been reclaimed for human habitation. In Nyongwa village the former open defecation site was now being used for holding community meetings. In most of the villages the story was different from what had been experienced in the past where many NGOs had attempted to stop open defecation by supporting the communities with slabs and other sanitation subsidies.


A number of the households had benefited from these subsidies but very few had been put to their intended use. Some of the slabs were abandoned in government offices, some in the homes, while others were being used for other purposes such as drying utensils and for standing on when one is bathing. This changed after the CLTS triggering. All the households that had been given slabs removed them from wherever they were and put them to their proper use of constructing a latrine. The enthusiasm by the communities also saw them increase the latrine coverage in their villages to 100% which in some instances was at zero per cent before the triggering. The latrine coverage in the villages before CLTS ranged from zero per cent to 15%.

However, it was not just smooth sailing; there were challenges that had to be overcome through dialogue, sensitization and regular follow up.  These included heterogeneous cultures that had created lingering ethnic suspicions making collective action difficult, land tenure uncertainties creating a reluctance to construct a latrine, insufficient digging tools and inadequate technical skills in constructing a latrine. These were also exacerbated by dependency on development agencies to ‘do things for the community.’

The collaboration between the staff from government at the State and County level and the SNV and UNICEF played a key role in surmounting these challenges.

Philip Vincent Otieno, UNICEF South Sudan

Date: 26 April 2013
South Sudan