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Introducing CLTS in Darfur

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At the end of April and beginning of May this year, I conducted CLTS training in Darfur at the invitation of DMT Tearfund UK and Oxfam America. The training took place in Kass town in South Darfur. This was the first CLTS training to take place in this part of Darfur. The training attracted the field staff of the two organizations together with their national partnering NGOs plus colleagues from the government. The purpose of the workshop was to build capacity of staff from the participating organizations to be able to undertake CLTS implementation in their areas of operation. During the workshop a total of four villages (Kulu Kulu, Tortura, Al Gamana and Tabaldia Um-Oshosh) were triggered and they all committed to stopping open defecation.

Kind welcome
When we went out for the triggering we found that the village elders had already been alerted about our visit and they were expecting us. As soon as we arrived at the villages, people started coming out of their homes to converge at the meeting point. The arrival of our vehicles seemed to act as an effective mobilization tool. The children followed us, and word spread very fast that we had arrived. There was a high turnout in all the triggering meetings. One thing that really struck me about the people of Darfur is their hospitality and kindness to visitors. The moment we arrived in the villages, seats were brought for us, and in other instances they spread the mats for us to seat on. They tried as much as possible to make us feel at home.

Overcoming fears
I was a little apprehensive that the communities would not be ready to openly discuss their defecation practices, since I was told that this is a really conservative community. Some of the workshop participants had also warned me that it would not be possible to have men and women seated together to discuss “such sensitive matters.” To the contrary everything just worked out fine. One thing that I have come to appreciate is that a lot of these fears are just psychological. The key to successful triggering is overcoming these fears.

Successful triggering
Generally speaking the triggering process went well, and was effective in eliciting feelings of shame, disgust and fear about open defecation. There were examples of women who vomited at the sight of shit found in the open, and of an elderly man who openly wept during the transect walk. The communities clearly showed remorse and sorrow at their poor sanitation practices.

Sanitation situation prior to CLTS
There was rampant open defecation in most of the villages. The latrine coverage seemed to be less than 5%. In one village they had a place they called “Hire hira”, which means defecation valley. This is where most of the open defecation was taking place. Comparatively more women seemed to practice the “cat method” in disposing of their shit, compared to men who just left their shit in the open. The women were openly proud of their sanitation practice.

In one of the villages, it was clear that there had been an NGO that had provided latrine subsidies in the form of san plats. Many of these were however were just lying around the compound. In some instances they were being used in the bathrooms for standing on when taking a bath.

A big pleasant surprise was one of the villages, where all households had latrines. Some households had even more than one latrine. The big challenge was the maintenance and cleanliness of the latrines. It was also apparent that children feces were not being properly disposed of. The high latrine coverage in this village was being attributed to high literacy rates, strong religious influence and proximity to the town center.

Triggering CLTS
There was a commitment by most people to transform their villages into open defecation free environments within one month. As expected in contexts which have been under emergency conditions for a long time, there were people who asked to be supported with sanitation subsidies such as slabs, cement, digging tools etc. There were others too who were ready to construct their latrines with locally available materials.

Islam which is the dominant religion in this area contributed in eliciting an effective trigger, as the religion through Prophet Mohammed clearly preaches against open defecation especially in and near water sources, on footpaths/roads and under a shade where people can take shelter eg shade of tree. This helped in galvanizing the communities to stop open defecation as it was clear that the practice leads to contamination of water sources and this is against their religious teachings.

Follow up visit in the villages
After two days we were able to visit the villages to assess the progress that had been made. It was quite amazing to see the kind of changes that happened within such a short time. All the villages had started taking actions to improve their sanitation and hygiene situation. For example In Tabaldia Um-Oshosh village, 50 households had started digging their pits, while in Tartora village 30 households had started. The number was smaller in Al Galama where only 7 households had started. In Kulu kulu village where all households had latrines, it was noted that some of them had started repairing their latrines, while 5 had started constructing new ones.

The number of people asking for external subsidies had significantly reduced. Most people appeared content to continue constructing their latrines with locally available material. In Tortura where it was noted during the triggering that a number of households previously supported with san plats had not put them to their proper use, had now started installing them for their intended purpose, while others were in the process of digging latrines to make good use of the materials. In the already existing latrines, they had started applying ash to disinfect their latrines.

There was also a noticeable improvement of the general cleanliness in the villages. In Tortura in particular, it was noted that the village had gone beyond construction of latrines, and were also involved in disposing and burning solid waste (garbage) that was there in the community. The residents were also already applying ash to disinfect and maintain the cleanliness of the existing latrines.

There was a striking incident in which a man with an amputated leg had successful dug his pit in just one day, and without help from anyone. There was also a teenage boy, who decided to start digging his family latrine, since his father was away, and the mother was expectant.

It was apparent that with regular and consistent follow up, these villages are likely to become ODF within a short time.

Feedback from the workshop participants
At the end of the training, after practically applying their new skills in the field, most participants felt more confident about their understanding of CLTS. They were also of the view that the training would help them in their work. One participant remarked: “I feel more confident now to implement CLTS. I have been working in 46 villages without a clear understanding of this methodology. From this training I now know clearly the difference between CLTS and other traditional sanitation approaches.” Another stated “The training triggered us before we even went to trigger the communities.”

See more photos of CLTS in Darfur

Philip Otieno is WASH Officer for UNICEF South Sudan

Date: 23 May 2012