Chang­ing lives one toi­let at a time

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

He is frail and cough­ing in­ces­santly, but 61-year-old Katse Mok’hena smiles broadly as he is told his Ven­ti­lated Im­proved Pit (VIP) toi­let is now com­plete and ready for use.

The fa­cil­ity is part of gov­ern­ment’s Water and San­i­ta­tion Pro­gramme and one of many be­ing built for Ha Le­bopo vil­lagers. The gov­ern­ment is also pro­vid­ing the com­mu­nity with water taps un­der the pro­gramme.

“I used to work in the South African mines a long time ago and built a toi­let for my fam­ily over 20 years ago. But the pit is now al­most full and be­com­ing al­most im­pos­si­ble to use be­cause it’s now too smelly and sit­ting in­side it even for a minute is now a strug­gle. I could not build an­other toi­let be­cause of lack of funds as my pri­or­ity is now pro­vid­ing food for my fam­ily,” Mr Mok’hena says.

“At times I ask my vis­i­tors to use my neigh­bours’ toi­lets as it is now em­bar­rass­ing to of­fer them such a la­trine. That’s why I am happy with this new toi­let and can’t wait for my fam­ily of four to start us­ing it af­ter it is of­fi­cially handed over to us.

“Like I said, the sit­u­a­tion had be­come des­per­ate and I now feared a dis­ease out­break due to its filthy state. I par­tic­u­larly feared for my young son be­cause chil­dren are not the most care­ful lot when us­ing the toi­let.

“I don’t know who is build­ing these toi­lets and in­stalling taps for us but I am happy. I just know a con­tac­tor from Maseru called Maphathe is build­ing these toi­lets and in­stalling the taps for the whole vil­lage. But who­ever is be­hind this project has saved my fam­ily and in­deed, the lives of many oth­ers in this vil­lage who were in an equally des­per­ate state.”

The taps might still be dry but Mr Mok’hena says the fact they have been in­stalled has brought hope to the Ha Le­bopo com­mu­nity.

“We will wait but the important thing is the taps are here. With clean water, our hy­giene will greatly im­prove. Right now, we keep a basin of water by the door so we could wash our hands af­ter us­ing the toi­let. But I un­der­stand it’s not healthy be­cause we use the same water over and over again.

“We also don’t use soap when wash­ing hands be­cause of poverty; we can’t af­ford the soap. But still we know the im­por­tance of wash­ing hands be­fore and af­ter eat­ing food hence this basin de­spite the fact that it is not hy­gienic.”

But toi­lets and taps are not the only devel­op­ments mak­ing the 61-year-old man happy these days. Mr Mok’hena and fel­low Ha Le­bopo vil­lagers are also ben­e­fit­ting fi­nan­cially from this project which pays each of them M920 for trans­port­ing ce­ment and bricks over 10 days.

“We work for 10 days and get paid M920 per per­son. Im­me­di­ately af­ter be­ing paid, you give space to the next per­son in line for em­ploy­ment. If there is still space af­ter ev­ery male adult from the vil­lage has been em­ployed, the whole process is re­peated.

“My fam­ily de­pends on these piece-jobs and farm­ing but af­ter be­ing hit by the drought this year, we are not go­ing to har­vest any­thing and this means dis­as­ter for us. I can­not wait to get paid so I can buy maize-meal and coarse salt. My fam­ily largely sur­vives on these two.”

He says a 50-kilo­gramme of maize-meal costs around M350 and to trans­port it from Mokhot­long town to Ha Le­bopo, which is a dis­tance of ap­prox­i­mately 30 kilo­me­ters, he bor­rows his neigh­bour’s don­key and re­pays the favour with a five-litre con­tainer-full of maize-meal.

“I take gro­ceries from lo­cal shops on credit and when I even­tu­ally get money from piece jobs like this one, I set­tle the debt and start all over again. This is how we live and I am scared it’s go­ing to be more dif­fi­cult these com­ing months since we didn’t har­vest any­thing.”

The Water and San­i­ta­tion Pro­gramme is driven by the Min­istry of Water Af­fairs and seeks to build over 9000 toi­lets through­out the coun­try in the 2016/17 fi­nan­cial year.

Un­der this pro­gramme, at least 45 000 peo­ple would have ac­cess to proper san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties in line with the min­istry’s man­date to provide water, san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene (WASH) to the com­mu­nity.

The min­istry is fur­ther man­dated to en­sure com­mu­ni­ties tar­geted by this pro­gramme are sen­si­tised on good WASH prac­tices.

Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Water Af­fairs Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary Kho­moat­sana Tau, en­sur­ing proper san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties for the peo­ple was one of the pri­mary man­dates of his min­istry.

“Peo­ple might think the min­istry’s man- date ends with giv­ing peo­ple ac­cess to clean water but that’s not how it works. Giv­ing peo­ple san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties is an added pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of this min­istry both in ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas.

“In ru­ral ar­eas, we provide VIPS or outside toi­lets while in ur­ban ar­eas, it is our man­date to en­sure ev­ery fam­ily has ac­cess to wa­ter­borne san­i­ta­tion.

“even though we still have outside toi­lets in town­ships, it is our de­sire for ev­ery sin­gle town­ship house­hold to have a wa­ter­borne san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity,” Mr Tau said.

Mr Tau fur­ther said it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ev­ery gov­ern­ment to en­sure peo­ple have ac­cess to water, san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene, adding this pro­gramme can be fully funded by a gov­ern­ment spe­cial bud­get, min­is­te­rial bud­get or donors.

He said civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions such as World Vi­sion Le­sotho is an ex­am­ple of non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions work­ing closely with gov­ern­ment to provide water, hy­giene and san­i­ta­tion to com­mu­ni­ties.

“We are closely work­ing and mon­i­tor­ing each other’s work to en­sure we don’t du­pli­cate ef­forts by pro­vid­ing the same ser­vices in one com­mu­nity. The Min­istry of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, through its com­mu­nity coun­cils, is also help­ing to put us in check to avoid du­pli­cat­ing ef­forts.”

Mr Tau also noted the min­istry had adopted a strict “no civil ser­vant pol­icy” which bars pub­lic ser­vants from do­ing these jobs.

“In our ef­forts to en­sure ef­fi­ciency, we have em­ployed in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors to do the job and you will not see any civil ser­vant in the villages work­ing on these projects. You will only see them dur­ing mon­i­tor­ing ex­er­cises.

“We have al­ready started ad­ver­tis­ing ten- ders for in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors to do these jobs and you might have seen a lot of ac­tiv­i­ties in the villages con­cern­ing this pro­gramme.”

Mr Tau also said the im­por­tance of easy ac­cess to san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties could not be overem­pha­sized.

“Col­lect­ing water nearby makes one’s liv­ing con­di­tions much eas­ier. Se­condly, this pos­i­tively con­trib­utes to the coun­try’s econ­omy as it lim­its the amount of time one takes to fetch water. In­stead of us­ing that time to travel long dis­tances to col­lect water, stu­dents will use that time to read while moth­ers use it for other pro­duc­tive house­hold chores like farm­ing.

In this min­istry, we say one must not travel more than 150 me­ters to col­lect water and if that hap­pens, such a fam­ily or in­di­vid­ual does not have ac­cess to clean water.

“Peo­ple must also have ac­cess to clean water, hy­giene and san­i­ta­tion to im­prove their lives. For in­stance, if you move around clin­ics in Maseru in a sin­gle morn­ing, you will re­alise most of the peo­ple there are nurs­ing moth­ers tak­ing their chil­dren for clin­i­cal care. Most of these chil­dren are suf­fer­ing from di­ar­rhea and un­clean water tops the list as the main cause of these di­ar­rhea cases.

“If their lives are im­proved, a lot of money spent on pro­vid­ing free healthcare ser­vices for dis­eases that would have been eas­ily avoided would be used for other devel­op­ments and we are work­ing hard to en­sure we don’t only provide san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties to Ba­sotho but sen­si­tize them on good hy­giene,” Mr Tau said.

Mr Tau said the sen­si­ti­za­tion pro­grammes in­clude teach­ing peo­ple ba­sis hy­giene such as wash­ing hands with soap ev­ery time they use the toi­let to avoid con­tract­ing dis­eases like di­ar­rhea.

“If things were to go by this min­istry’s wishes, ev­ery Mosotho would have ac­cess to WASH ser­vices the next day and Le­sotho would be trans­formed overnight but due to fi­nan­cial con­straints, we are forced to cover only a num­ber of com­mu­ni­ties per fi­nan­cial year,” he said.

How­ever, he added it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ev­ery in­di­vid­ual to en­sure ser­vices like this one are taken care of.

“We don’t want to do this again. We want ev­ery sin­gle Mosotho to have ac­cess to these ser­vices. Tak­ing care of these ser­vices would save gov­ern­ment a lot of money which would be used to provide the same ser­vices to oth­ers. For in­stance, you see a per­son us­ing a hosepipe to wash a car and water the whole lawn while the next per­son doesn’t have ac­cess to clean water and that is the prac­tice we are try­ing to root-out.”

He said the min­istry had also in­tro­duced an “own­er­ship” as­pect in this pro­gramme by en­sur­ing each ben­e­fit­ting house­hold dis a pit for it­self and pro­vides free labour dur­ing the con­struc­tion. The gov­ern­ment, he added, pays un­skilled labour only for fam­i­lies with spe­cial needs, like those liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties.

“Fur­ther­more, the con­trac­tor trans­ports sand, ce­ment and bricks to ben­e­fit­ting com­mu­ni­ties at their own ex­pense and once put in a cen­tral place within the vil­lage, each house­hold takes the ce­ment needed for build­ing the toi­lets. That way, peo­ple own this pro­gramme and en­sure it is protected.”

Mr Tau also said the min­istry was work­ing hard to ed­u­cate com­mu­ni­ties about the use of these san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties to avoid a re­peat of what hap­pened in the past when peo­ple turned them into store­rooms.

“Some­time in the early 2000s, the Le­sotho High­lands De­vel­op­ment Author­ity built toi­lets for Katse com­mu­ni­ties but those were turned into store­rooms for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

Cul­tur­ally, in Se­sotho, a daugh­ter-in-law isn’t al­low to touch any­thing his fa­ther-in­law touches and males and fe­males are not al­lowed to take the same di­rec­tion, so we were faced with a huge chal­lenge and such ser­vices ended up be­ing used as store­rooms. For some few fam­i­lies that un­der­stood the im­por­tance of this ser­vice, fam­i­lies ended up iden­ti­fy­ing one toi­let for males and an­other for fe­males in the same vil­lage.”

I don’t know who is build­ing these toi­lets and in­stalling taps for us but I am happy. I just know a con­tac­tor from Maseru called Maphathe is build­ing these toi­lets and in­stalling the taps for the whole vil­lage. But who­ever is be­hind this project has saved my fam­ily and in­deed, the lives of many oth­ers in this vil­lage who were in an equally des­per­ate state

Katse Mok’hena shows off his VIP toi­let.

Min­istry of Water af­fairs Ps Kho­moat­sana Tau.

The Mak’hena fam­ily.

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