As of 2011, sanitation coverage worldwide was at 64%. With a worldwide population of just over seven billion this means that two and a half billion people still do not have access to improved sanitation facilities. Of these people, just over one billion still practice open defecation. Lack of proper sanitation and hygiene often leads to poor health and polluted water, which in turn leads to less production, less time in school, and many deaths worldwide.
One methodology that is being used to help communities realize their need for proper sanitation and hygiene is School Led Total Sanitation, or SLTS (closely linked to CLTS). The thought behind it is pretty brilliant. Have you ever had a child ask you for another piece of cake, or to stay out playing a little longer, or to come help them build a sand castle? They look up at your with their big eyes and innocent face and it’s really hard to say no to them. It’s almost as if they have some sort of super power that makes their appeals hard to turn down.
The requests thrown out above are trivial, but what if your child came home from school and told you that they wanted to start washing their hands before they ate. Or that they wanted to help you build a latrine so that they no longer had to go out into a field to do their business. What if your daughter came home and said that she no longer felt uncomfortable at school because the girls now have their own bathroom, and she wanted the same comfort at home. I think most parents would want to support these requests, and that is one of the main reasons that SLTS works.
Unlike Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), SLTS starts at the school and with the children. The thought behind it is if you educate the children about sanitation and hygiene and why it is important they will go home and convey this information to their family and their community, with a little pressure, and this will spark change. Because schools are looked at by the community as a place of education and good, which they can trust, they will often be more willing to listen to and participate in programs that are based at the school. Plus, once you get kids on board they can be very influential. Further, because schools are often funded by the government they sometimes have access to money that can be used towards the SLTS objectives. So how does SLTS work?
In the simplest terms SLTS is about educating people on the health impacts of poor hygiene and sanitation, and making the community open defecation free. It requires the involvement of the entire community in order to be successful (if one person is still practicing open defecation then there is still the risk of disease in the community). This all starts with the formation of school groups, or the organizing of groups if they’re already established. These groups can be teachers, parents, woman’s groups, concerned citizens, or a mix of all of them. They will be responsible for things like planning, identification of resources, mobilization of stakeholders, and the development of an action plan. Next, child groups are formed as a place to organize, educate, and motivate the children to go out and be powerful activists for change. Once the groups have been formed and the children and adults have been trained/educated you can then move on to the meat of the program.
There are four key components to SLTS. The first, which may also be the hardest, is changing the way the community thinks about sanitation and hygiene through the use of ignition tools. These ignition tools are used as a way to make people feel ashamed at their behavior and make them, and the community as a whole, think about what they’re doing. These tools include:
- Group walks through the community: households that do not have sanitation facilities or are practicing open defecation are pointed out and then the members of the household are talked to about their practices and are encouraged to change. During these walks households that have constructed latrines and are now practicing safe sanitation and hygiene are also pointed out and praised.
- Mapping of the community: to point out where open defecation is happening and who is responsible for it, as well as where water sources are, and where community resources are located. This is done by people in the community. The map is then placed on a public board so that everyone can see it which leads to the households that are negatively identified on the board wanting to change their ways.
- Mapping where the poop goes: this map shows the path that the feces will travel in the community after people defecate in the open. This can show the community how the feces will get into their water, foot trails, gardens/fields, playground, etc. When the community sees this they realize that when open defecation is practiced the feces do not stay where they drop, but instead can work its way around the community and ultimately into their food and water.
- Calculating the amount of poop: based on the number of people practicing open defecation. Once you quantify how much poop is actually in the community and being spread around people are shocked and disgusted, leading them to want to use latrines instead.
- Showing how the poop gets in their food: during this step people are shown, sometimes through cards that are drawn out, how open defecation leads to feces getting into their food. Feces can get into food through things like people going to the bathroom, not washing their hands, and then touching food or by food interacting with the feces which is spread throughout the community, maybe by laying the food on the ground after it is harvested.
- Raising the flag: literally. This step includes placing flags at places where open defecation happens. This leads to people being embarrassed to continue using this area and instead want to start using a latrine.
Because this whole program is developed around the school there should be appropriate sanitation and hygiene facilities located at the school before the ignition tools are used to serve as a model for the rest of the community.
The next component is called Environmental Sanitation, and this is basically keeping the community clean and maintained. This includes the cleaning of yards, foot trails, public spaces, the school yard, etc. Environmental sanitation also looks at managing drainage throughout the community and managing solid waste. This is important because once people start putting an effort into keeping their community clean they will no longer tolerate piles of feces throughout it. This process will be ongoing and take the commitment of the entire community in order to keep it up. Because this is a community effort it will also lead to the shaming of people who are not following the status quo and help to get them motivated to participate.
Sanitation Facilities are at the core of the success of SLTS, and therefore, are a main component. People should be encouraged to build their own latrines out of locally available materials which can then be repaired or replaced easily if needed. If funding from the local government is available this can be used to offset costs associated with the latrines and their maintenance. A community fund that everyone from the community puts money into can also be established to pay for maintenance. Another option, if available, is for people to take out a loan to pay for their latrine. Hand washing stations should also be built near each latrine and soap should be made available since hand washing is a large part of staying healthy. Further, in keeping with the environmental sanitation component, compost pits or other ways of disposing of household waste should be established.
Finally, the last component is the total elimination of open defecation. Like I said earlier, if one person in the community is still practicing open defecation then there is still a risk of contamination. Even if you are using a latrine, washing your hands before eating, and keeping your food clean you will still be vulnerable considering all it takes to become sick is a fly landing on a pile of poop and then landing on your food. The only way you can control that is to make sure that there is no poop for the flies to land on. Also, to help curb open defecation local agencies and municipalities should be encouraged to provide shared latrines for those that cannot afford them. It should be noted that the number of latrines constructed in a community is not an indication of a community safe from disease. Only when the community is established as open defecation free (ODF) can the community be confident that they are finally safe from disease.
Now you hopefully have a good idea of what SLTS is and its parts, but I’m not done yet. Next week I’ll continue writing about SLTS, getting into the strategy and looking at some case studies. Until then, thanks for reading.