It was a day to celebrate big change in Nandom, a town in Ghana’s Upper West region, and mark a concluding milestone for a successful USAID-funded West Africa Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (USAID WA-WASH) Program. Twenty-four communities were certified as open defecation free (ODF) on August 20, 2015 (see Photo 1). While this may not be historical news to most outsiders, village chiefs and community members on-hand that day took great pride in acknowledging each other, knowing what it took to get every person in their villages to stop squatting behind bushes and build their own household latrines for the very first time. The USAID WA-WASH Program not only helped people understand why open defecation is bad for individual health, but more importantly, why it is disastrous to the environment of entire communities.
Reflecting on the progress made in these villages, Paramount Chief Dr. Puoye Chilr says, “It is a sign that my people are listening well.” If you ask the villagers themselves, they will tell you there is no going back to the old days. The 24 villages in the Nandom district and neighboring Lawra district are on their way to a healthier, cleaner, brighter future. Today’s celebration represented a reversal of the practice of open-defecation for good. To get there, the Program took on an entirely different approach than others, putting gender roles and shared decision-making at the forfront and implementing a multi-sector agenda to address community-identified needs: WASH, food security, climate change adaptation, income generation and education. It was indeed an integrated program, and it worked.
Another great cause for pride for the USAID WA-WASH program was that these communities did it themselves. Taking direction and then substantial initiative, they met the challenge of educating community members about the hazards of open-defecation. Village chiefs spoke out about it, respected individuals were trained as latrine artisans to help build and make repairs, and women became members of village savings and loan associations (VSLAs), earning money to help pay for their own latrine. One by one, community members all understood why change was necessary and committed to making it a reality.
Through the construction of household latrines, the leadership and support of their village chiefs, assemblymen, queen mothers, natural leaders, VSLA leaders and so many others, these communities have gone from having not even one proper sanitation facility, to communities that are completely open-defecation-free. At the ODF celebration ceremony, hundreds of community members came to hear remarks from representatives of various organizations and receive official plaques and reflect on their newfound status. They received their citations from regional and local officials, the paramount chief, the district chief of Nandom and the regional director of the Upper West region. Leaders from USAID WA-WASH also took part, delivering remarks and helping distribute the certificates. “The beginning of everything is always hard, but you can change a mind in a minute when people listen,” says Yelvieli Sylvester, the village chief of Kambaa Tangzu, one of the communities honored. “Communities feel that some things like toilets aren’t necessary. Then they change when they understand the benefits. Open defecation has to stop and we want others to learn from our example.”