Overcoming challenges in Community-Led Total Sanitation

Community EmpowermentSanitationWater and sanitation

By Munyaradzi Charuka

It is widely accepted that the success of a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) process depends mostly on the skills of the facilitator. This is because in most cultures defecation is considered a private, personal activity, which should not be publicly discussed. Facilitators help the community to see and understand the effects of open defecation, and they mobilise the community to discuss it and take action together.

A man constructing a latrine in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan. Photo: Bruce Clark/Tearfund
A man constructing a latrine in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan. Photo: Bruce Clark/Tearfund

Introducing the idea to facilitators

The number one difficulty I have encountered with facilitation is the resistance by project staff to adopt CLTS as a new approach to sanitation. Often the reason given is that the people are poor and it is insensitive for the organisation to expect them to construct latrines using their own resources. This is the first hurdle to be dealt with.

Project staff also fear losing their sense of purpose, or even their jobs, particularly if the organisation previously supported the beneficiaries with latrine kit subsidies. Accepting the new target of ‘Number of villages declared Open Defecation Free’ as opposed to the previous one of ‘Number of latrines constructed’ can be a challenge for many project staff.

Prompting the community

A way of overcoming difficulties in facilitation at community level is to build relationships with the people and find potential opportunities to talk about open defecation. For example, in Zimbabwe one facilitator remarked to some men that he knew their wives’ bottoms. The immediate reaction was anger and astonishment. ‘How on earth?’ the men asked. The community facilitator explained that he saw the women’s bottoms when they lift their dresses to defecate in the bushes. The men got the message and resolved to construct latrines at their homestead.

In Zimbabwe, during the Christmas holidays, those who stay in urban areas visit their parents and relatives in rural areas. Often they are driving posh cars, smartly dressed and clearly wealthy. I remember one community facilitator telling the people at a Christmas party that those who come from urban areas have modern toilets inside their houses yet they have no simple latrines at their rural homes. She then urged those from urban areas to construct latrines at their homesteads and for their parents as it was cheaper than the twenty litres of petrol required for them to drive there and back. She took the opportunity that came her way to pass on the message. Indeed there was change as families’ relatives from towns and cities started constructing latrines at both their parents’ and their own homes.

In Afghanistan Tearfund encouraged project staff to mobilise people to help each other in CLTS by building on the Muslim practice of Zakat, where those who are economically capable take care of the less fortunate. This worked out very well.

Including everyone

In Afghanistan, men and boys participated in the public CLTS process, while female facilitators reached out to the women through household visits.

This is important because religiously and culturally, women will not talk where there are men who are accepted as heads of families and therefore take the important decisions. But if the women are not heard, their concerns, fears, and progressive ideas will not be known. I remember in Jawzjan, one of our female facilitators heard women she had met during the CLTS process say that in their community, men were the ones practising open defecation more than women. If men had been present they would not have said that.

The other reason for separating men from women is that CLTS encourages people to talk about defecation practices using crude words rather than polite ones. In this context, such words cannot be spoken when men and women are in the same group.

Working with the government

In Afghanistan, opposition to CLTS came from senior government officials in Kandahar Province. They argued that there was a need to construct public and household latrines on behalf of the people, and that health and hygiene messaging on hand washing with soap was not worth it as Muslims wash their hands five times a day as part of their religious prayers. As a result of this, the project was disrupted by the government officials.

In the end we realised that they did not understand the CLTS concept. While we invested in the training of extension-level government staff, we learnt that we should have equally committed resources to educate the government officials on CLTS for one full day. We learnt that it is important to communicate with senior government staff and work with their blessing.

Munyaradzi Charuka is Tearfund’s Roving WASH Advisor.

Adoption of CLTS and other Tearfund resources on CLTS can be found on the TILZ website: http://tilz.tearfund.org/en/themes/water_and_sanitation/resources


What is Community-Led Total Sanitation?

CLTS encourages people to use resources available in their communities to construct latrines. It also accepts the burying of excreta as a starting point if a family is not able to construct a latrine. The important thing is that the whole community agrees to stop faeces getting into the environment and decides to become ‘Open Defecation Free’.

The CLTS concept and process was described in Footsteps 73. More detailed information can be found in the water and sanitation section of the TILZ website and at www.communityledtotalsanitation.org

Munyaradzi Charuka