An approach to sanitation that works

Boys and girls smiling

Encouraging each household to have its own latrine has seen big changes at local level in Kenema District, as mother-of-four Kadiatu tells us.

Kadiatu smiles as she proudly shows us the latest addition to her household - a community-constructed latrine. A mother of four, Kadiatu has lived in Gbondoma village all her life. Until recently, her children had been plagued by regular bouts of diarrhoea and other diseases as a result of poor hygiene and sanitation facilities. This meant lots of time off school and constant visits to the local hospital, both of which were additional strains to an already overstretched household.

Kadiatu shakes her head as she remembers what Gbondoma village used to be like. "Because our house is near the bushes there used to be kaka everywhere. It was so bad we couldn't even sit outside because of the smell and flies."

Building public latrines didn't work

In 2008, UNICEF began working with the Government of Sierra Leone and their NGO partners to roll-out the Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) programme in Kenema District. This new approach relied on natural leaders motivating the community to change their situation, using local materials to build household latrines and end the practice of open defecation. Experience had shown that the subsidised building of public latrines was failing to have any significant impact, with many quickly falling into disrepair or being reserved for prominent individuals or visitors to the community. This, in addition to the complete lack of facilities in many villages, has meant that a many women and children have been left behind in terms of sanitation provision.

A community-led effort

Following a session with community facilitators, Kadiatu and other families in the community began the construction of their own latrines. Once all household latrines were completed and in use, Gbondoma village was declared Open Defecation-Free (ODF).

The event was followed by community-wide celebrations which are still apparent today. The pride felt by the village remains evident as families flock to meet visitors and make sure that they visit their household latrine.

UNICEF believes CATS is one of the most effective and sustainable methods of ensuring that sanitation interventions reach whole communities. In Sierra Leone alone, more than 300,000 people now have access to their own household latrines as a result of CATS. And Kadiatu certainly seems pleased with the results. "My children are much healthier now and, because of the improved environment, I can now have friends round to sit in my back garden. Life is good here in Gbondoma."

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Over a million people have been reached through our sanitation programmes. Meet some of them:Real Stories