Passion, energy and commitment

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You have asked me for impressions of the past two weeks – the pre-AfricaSan CLTS workshop, AfricaSan 3 itself, and then the workshop on taking CLTS to scale with quality in Kenya.

I was hugely encouraged by the pre-workshop. About 65 people had come a day early, eating into their weekend, in order to come and share and learn. Close to 20 countries were represented, and we had senior government figures as well as NGO people and others from international agencies. There was great networking. When we stood in groups – all government together, all NGOs in another group, all international agency people in another – there was an explosive buzz, quite unanticipated, which ran on for ten minutes! The quality and insights of contributions were outstanding, with a good process of dialogue facilitated by Sammy (Musyoki) and Petra (Bongartz).

What sticks in my mind most is what Lonis Salihu from Nigeria said about menstrual hygiene (linked with CLTS because of privacy). He told us that they had found women using the same pad for a whole year who said ‘For five days in the month we stink’. Others besides myself were shocked and moved. Then at the end we had messages for the conference from the workshop including that resources are needed for learning, that there must be investment in M and E and research, and above all that CLTS provided a way of achieving not just the MDG goals which are so off track, but surpassing them. Altogether an inspiring and energising experience, as happens when many champions of CLTS meet.

The AfricaSan conference was a stark contrast with the Sacosan for South Asia in Colombo, held in April. There, CLTS was not on the agenda, though it was raised when there was a chance. Here at AfricaSan it was prominently on the agenda. Kamal Kar had been invited to give a keynote speech to the opening plenary. There was a parallel session, very well attended, on CLTS, at which a dozen people from different countries presented innovations and experiences.

The UNICEF data suggested that there are now 4 million people in SubSaharan Africa living in ODF communities as a result of CLTS. This indicates a sharp, even exponential rise. Of course there are questions of how reliable these reported data are, and how stringent the verifications are on which they are based. Still, something remarkable is happening. Very much watch this space.

One penny that dropped for me was that there are now 13 countries which have adopted CLTS as their official strategy for rural sanitation, and that only one of these is outside Africa – Indonesia. The African countries are Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, The Gambia, Guinea Conakry, Liberia and Togo.

Several countries have set ambitious targets for achieving full rural ODF in a few years, something which has never been achieved anywhere before. Ethiopia and Malawi have set 2015 as their target date, Zambia 2014, Kenya 2013, and the Northern Region of Ghana 2012. – these last two following Kamal Kar’s recent visits. This is an entirely new game park, entering new territory, and presenting huge challenges of training, triggering, follow up, verification, and sustainability post-ODF, all of these on an almost unprecedented scale.

Learning and sharing between African Governments must be such a priority now, sharing innovations, and learning what works and what doesn’t at scale. The trap of target driven programmes and lax verification together with rewards for being ODF which led to such exaggerated statistics in India and some other Asian contexts and the need for re-verification and correction, is something to avoid at all costs. The term ‘rapid realism’ was coined. And the verification system piloted in Kenya, with third party verification by an NGOKWAHO – has much to commend it. It passes the critical test of enough communities failed, but not too many. In Western and Nyanza Provinces in Kenya, KWAHO have so far failed 54 per cent, and certified 46 per cent, a promising start to learn from.

The international workshop held at the Lukenya Getaway (a great place for a secluded workshop, half an hour from the airport away from Nairobi, and so relatively traffic free) brought together 22 people from 13 countries, with experience from Indonesia, India and Pakistan as well as Africa. The workshop was on going to scale with quality, the great challenge now so widely faced.

We brainstormed onto cards and key topics emerged which then became themes for sharing experiences

  • Training and triggering at scale, and Natural Leaders
  • Monitoring and Evaluation, and Verification, Targets and Reporting
  • Sanitation Marketing and Sustainability beyond ODF
  • Institutional Structures and Arrangements
  • Funding agencies’ policies and CLTS
  • Emerging contexts with potential for going to scale including urban

We then had a process of sharing and writing up which we hope will be a living document on these themes, a source of experience and ideas useful to policy-makers and practitioners widely.

Our field visit day was to the Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation where we learnt about the plans and procedures which have been developed, and also the Kenyan CLTS website, and then to Mathare 10, the slum where Sammy Musyoki triggered urban CLTS (see the urban CLTS blog) a bit over a year ago. The challenges are formidable, with open defecation areas still there, but a lot of progress has been made. Map Mathare in which youth volunteers use GPS to map the area has produced remarkable thematic maps which can now be used for advocacy. Rosie Nyawira who briefed us is an outstanding leader, and she and Sammy made a big impression at AfricaSan. Here indeed is a living laboratory to learn from. If this process continues to work in Mathare, it may be a breakthrough that starts a movement. Let us hope so.

A final impression was how things have changed in Kenya with the use of the word ‘shit’. A year ago there was a row when Sammy used the word on breakfast television, with a father phoning in, for all to hear, complaining vigorously and saying that it was outrageous – he and his young son were eating their cornflakes for breakfast, and when I came on I had to refer to ‘the word I am not allowed to use’. But now all that has been negotiated and changed, and we were able to use it. In fact, we asked our interviewer what the word was in her language – Samburu, and she told us ngik and that will be added to the international glossary, helping Kenya to catch up with India as the country with the largest number of such words.

So overall, yes, there is passion and energy and commitment there, and it was manifest throughout the two weeks. The next years will bring disappointments, for sure, but the impetus and momentum are growing and augur well. There will be much, much to learn, and much to share with countries outside Africa. And what a privilege to be involved in such an enthralling movement.

Robert Chambers is a Research Associate at the Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK and part of the CLTS Knowledge Hub that is based there.

Date: 30 July 2011