Leading change from within the community

Old women singing

Hawa and Kinny Sovela explain how making the connection between disease and open defecation has transformed their lives, and the positive impact it has had on the health of their community in Sierra Leone.

"There used to be so many flies and when it rained, the smell was terrible," recalls Hawa Sovela, a mother of three from Simbek village in Moyamba District, Sierra Leone. Her children giggle as she describes how the "kaka" from the surrounding bushes used to wash into the village with the rain. "It made cooking and socialising outside the house very difficult," she explains.

Natural leaders step up

The situation changed drastically after the visit of a community facilitator who, through a series of shocking demonstrations, helped to highlight the link between improper sanitation, open defecation and disease. The community responded immediately as a number of people came forward, offering to help start the construction of latrines in Simbek. Hawa's husband, Kinny, was one.

"I was determined to put an end to this practice of open defecation," he explains, "I'm a strong man with a lot to offer to the community. But I'm also a father, and I wanted to do something important for my family. I'm very proud of what we've achieved."

The movement gains pace

Three months after the initial demonstrations, Simbek was declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). The community is just one of 1,500 villages that have been declared ODF across the country in the past three years. More than 300,000 people now have access to improved sanitation as a result of the Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) programme, led by the Government of Sierra Leone, with support from UNICEF and their NGO partners.

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How we're doing

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