PHAST: Helping People to Help Themselves

Today I’m going to be talking about a methodology called PHAST that is used by organizations around the world and is based around the idea that for something to be successful you need to get the people it’s supposed to help involved.  PHAST, which stands for Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation, is a participatory method that engages communities and educates them on hygiene and sanitation as well as encouraging them to take responsibility for the management of water and sanitation facilities.  With 2.5 billion people worldwide still not having access to improved sanitation facilities PHAST is a way for them to finally be able to live a healthy life.

I mentioned above that PHAST is a participatory method so I guess I should let you know what that is.  It’s a method that includes everyone and anyone that wants to be involved regardless of sex, age, anything, and that’s a key aspect of these types of methods. In a lot of places in the world woman are less inclined to speak up because of the culture, but this method encourages and empowers them to speak their mind.  It also aims to make people feel like they are responsible for the decisions that are being made and therefore responsible for implementing and executing these decisions, and this leads to more confidence among the people involved.  It’s basically an open forum where people can throw out their ideas, make decisions, learn from one another, and in this case, help their community stay healthy.

Above I stated what PHAST aims to achieve, but how does it go about achieving these things?  Well it’s actually pretty simple.  In most places, if given the opportunity, people will rush for an opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of their community.  Once the people are there the first thing that is discussed is the relationship between sanitation and health.  Different cultures have different ideas about why people get sick, and they’re often wrong.  By educating and making people understand that they’re getting sick because their sanitation situation is poor you get the wheels turning and people start to ask questions and engage.  With PHAST because of different levels of reading and writing among the people posters with drawings are often used to convey a principal.  It has been found that this type of engagement leads to a buildup of self-esteem within the community, and that leads to people wanting to make changes, and that’s the whole point.

So what are the steps to implementing PHAST?  A guide put out by WHO, the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), and the UNDP-World Bank Water and Sanitation Program lists seven steps to be successful with PHAST implementation, and they’re pretty much what you would think. All of these steps are done in a group setting.

  1. You start by identifying the problem
  2. Then you analyze why these problems are occurring
  3. Next the group comes up with solutions
  4. Now that you have a solution you start to plan how you’re going to implement these solutions
  5. Then you pick who’s doing what and talk about how this work will impact the community
  6. To ensure everything is going as intended put a plan together to monitor and evaluate progress
  7. Then put that plan to work.

Makes sense right?  There’s nothing radically new about this part of the method, it’s really the process of getting people involve that is different about PHAST.

Lastly I’m going to show you the steps one community in Kenya took in implementing the PHAST method to show you how things can develop once the ball is rolling.  After the initial set up and discussion the community decided to form health committees.  After a while the health committees decided to start house-to-house hygiene education.  Next, in a move that shows that people were engaged and enjoying what was happening community leaders asked for PHAST tools (posters, literature, etc) to be used in the local schools and for local health workers.  Then community leaders went to public health officials and asked for technical aspects of latrine building, protection of water sources, and healthful housing practices.  This is great because the leaders are now taking responsibility for managing systems in their community, another big goal of PHAST.  Moving on, they decided to build latrines for the community, and then the health committees decided to take over the operation and maintenance of water points.  In the last step the health committee set up a community monitoring program to watch over the water points.  In the end they have successfully built sanitation and water facilities that are run and maintained by the community.

I’m a huge fan of this methodology.  I truly believe that in order for something to be successful you HAVE TO get the community you’re helping involved.  That’s a large part of why I’m also a big fan of appropriate technology; it gets the people involved and instead of just handing them something they help you build it which leads to a sense of pride.  Also, since they were part of the planning and construction of whatever you may be working on when it breaks they’ll be able to fix it.  It’s the same idea here.  Get the people involved from the start, get them excited about it, and then let them come up with the solutions and implement them (with some guidance).  Then when the organization that helped them walks away the people are self-sufficient and the project will last a long time.  I think this quote says it all: “All my life people have been coming here and telling us what to do.  This is the first time anyone has ever listened to what we think”. – Unknown name, 84 year old Kenyan woman

PHAST: Helping People to Help Themselves
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One thought on “PHAST: Helping People to Help Themselves

  • December 29, 2012 at 4:11 am

    Dear Brian,

    A good summary of what must be one of the most important methodologies for hygiene promotion in the WASH sector over the past 20 years. Not surprisingly there have been problems, but these have largely been where the facilitator training was given to the wrong people, I remember meeting a council accountant who had received the training and a complete kit of pictures, pocket chart and UNICEF carrying bag… how much better if a health worker or a teacher had received the training and the materials. There have also been ways developed to make PHAST reach the people in a structured and organised manner, as with the community health club approach promoted by Africa Ahead which works well with both communities and with schools. If you are interested go to their website . All the best for 2013 everyone Brian Mathew


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