In Liberia, open defection is the most common sanitation practice. This fact, coupled with a lack of access to safe drinking water results in high levels of fecal-oral diseases and related child deaths. The USAID-funded Improved Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (IWASH) program is addressing this problem, conducting behavior change activities in order to convince Liberians to change their sanitation practices and take responsibility for making improvement necessary in their communities to become open defecation-free.
Since February 2013, Global Communities (IWASH Implementer) has engaged 120 communities in an aggressive campaign to end open defecation. By July more than half were certified by the Government of Liberia (GOL) as Open Defecation-free and an additional 40% are on track to reach this status by August. This has been achieved without providing the communities any material or financial support to dig latrines or build the dish racks and clothes lines required for the designation. All the work is done by community members and all the materials come from the local area. Global Communities and the GOL are co-implementing the program, which is considered “community-led” as all decisions about what actions will improve the community’s sanitation practice are made by the community members. Through the process of community monitoring, natural leaders emerge, who become a key point-of-contact for monitoring the communities’ progress.
Once the communities’ become open defecation-free, the Natural Leaders are encouraged to form networks to provide mutual support to each other. These networks are also invited to participate in engaging with new communities to change their sanitation practices. The Natural Leaders understand the challenges innate in changing the personal habits of Liberian’s, as well as the work involved in becoming open defecation-free. They are the perfect advocates.
At a recent health fair held to celebrate the launch of A Promise Renewed, IWASH Natural Leaders were present to talk about their experiences with the program. The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, stopped by the WASH booth and talked with Esther Moye, a Natural Leader from a rural county. Esther located her village on one of the GIS monitoring maps and described the work that had been done to transform the community’s sanitation practices. President Johnson-Sirleaf was impressed by the activities and encouraging toward the program’s expansion, “Liberia needs more sanitation development and I am happy to hear people are stepping forward to take responsibility to meet these needs.”
The IWASH program is also training WASH Entrepreneurs to repair hand pumps and manage small businesses supplying WASH related products and services. The entrepreneurs will be sustainable through their own profitable businesses in pump repair as well as supplying soap and WaterGuard (water chlorination) in rural communities. These WASH Entrepreneurs are drawn from Natural Leaders and provided with initial contracts to repair hand pumps in school and health clinics to launch their businesses.
The IWASH program is addressing sustainable change in sanitation practices and safe water supply in Liberia. Through these activities the exposure of children to fecal-oral disease will be reduced and the promise of a healthier life for children under-5 will be renewed.
Learn more about the WASH partnership.