‘The wazungu have come to see our toilets’ one child informed the other with a serious face. This was overheard on our recent peer review trip, which you can read more about here.
As part of the evaluation, we looked at (examined? inspected?) various latrines in the communities we visited – some private, some public – to see how they were being used and kept after sensitisation on good sanitation practices had supposedly taken place. We saw a vast array of different latrines: some completely unused, some very dirty and smelling bad, others without a door for privacy, most without water to wash hands with after, but some kept well and clean with good hand-washing facilities nearby.
It’s important to look at the latrines to see how people have understood the sensitisation messages that have been put across: how many see the value in it, and what work still needs to be done. I think in a lot of cases, it can be summed up as one beneficiary told us: ‘Yes, we have been taught that we should use the latrines and we know how to keep them clean. It’s just that we don’t always do it.’ The message has been put across, has been heard within the communities but the value of it has not been understood. It takes a long time to change habits, attitudes and practices.
While I can see the benefit of discussing and inspecting latrines, there’s a part of me that feels very uncomfortable going around villages asking people about their defecation practices. And a part of me wonders how our trip will be remembered within the villages: whether we will be remembered for bringing good sanitation practices and thus reducing diarrhoea rates, or whether we will be remembered for being those crazy wazungu who have a strange obsession with looking at toilets…