Vicious assault on human dignity

Vicious assault on human dignity

Rose Moremoholo

THABA-TSEKA – When nature calls, the majority of villagers in Bobete in Thaba-Tseka quickly rush to find a “private” place to defecate.

It is the ultimate assault on their human dignity.

According to Water Aid Southern Africa, an NGO, the villagers are part of the 70 percent of families in Lesotho that have no access to toilets and as a result resort to open defecation.

Out of the 17 652 people living in Bobete, only three families own a toilet.

These include the chief and two other families who use toilets made of corrugated iron sheets.

The only other toilets are at Marumo Primary School and at a local clinic. Yet the pit latrine at the clinic is so full that it is almost unusable.

It is no wonder that for the majority of people in Bobete, defecating in the open has become a way of life. In fact, the people are not ashamed to perpetuate the practice.

Liphoko Likotoane, who is the Thaba-Tseka District Engineer for Rural Water Supply, says they have so far only covered 20 percent of the community with sanitation in the whole district.

Likotoane says the toilets they have built for the people are in most cases not used for the purpose but they are used as store rooms to keep farming implements and other household items.

“We started providing sanitation to the people in 2004 but there are not enough funds to cover a larger area as we would have wished,” Likotaone says.

But thanks to Water Aid Southern Africa, in collaboration with Lesotho Red Cross, the problem of lack of toilet facilities could soon be over.

The two organisations recently held a workshop to train villagers to build their own toilets using local materials.

However, the people have not built toilets because a few trained ones won’t pass their newly acquired skills to other villagers for free and neither can they build the toilets for free.

’Matšepang Makhele of Thaba-Khubelu in Bobete who is the chairperson of WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) says the workshop helped them realise the importance of having a toilet and how open defecation affects health.

“We didn’t know that so much of the health problems we have which are affecting us as well as our children were the result of what we have been practising for years and thought it was right,” Makhele says.

Makhele says the project educated them on how to use local materials to build their own toilets.

“We were told that this is the simplest way to have toilets of our own,” she says.

However, Makhele is among hundreds that do not have a toilet at their homes and says she cannot build because she is a woman and building work is reserved for men.

Although Makhele says they were trained on Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which is cheaper and uses the material easily available in a village, no one has built a toilet of their own.

CLTS is an innovative method to mobilise communities to completely eliminate open defecation.

Mookho Mafereka, a project officer in Bobete, says she had to work hard to educate the community about the hazards of open defecation.

“At first they didn’t know why it would be important to have toilets because OD (open defecation) was still the best way to go around passing stool,” Mafereka says.

She says she had to stress the fact that open defecation contaminates the water they drink.

Since 1968 when Marumo Primary School was built the school did not have any toilet facilities.

The pupils have been using the slope near the school as their defecation area and when it rains their faeces are washed away into the nearby stream.

The people use the same water from the stream to wash and sometimes for household consumption when the springs cannot give enough due to drought.

In 2014 Water Aid Southern Africa and Lesotho Red Cross built toilets for the school, thus minimizing chances of contracting water-borne diseases.

A local nurse, Maleshoane Seleqe, told thepost the new toilets have cut incidences of water-borne diseases significantly.

Seleqe says when she arrived at the clinic in Bobete they used to treat at least 20 under-five children who were suffering from diseases associated with lack of sanitation every three months.

Last year, after the school toilets were completed, the cases dropped to 12 cases per quarter.

Seleqe says from January this year to last week only three children were treated for the water-borne diseases.

Robert Kampala, head of Water Aid Southern Africa, visited the project last Tuesday to evaluate the project.

Water Aid Southern Africa is building toilets for Marumo Primary and Bobete Primary and also simple gravitational water systems in Ha-Khoaisanyane, Sekoting and Ha-Mojesi.

These are the villages that have been selected by the Red Cross through the help of the Rural Water Supply.

“These students would normally defecate in people’s fields during summer when the maize has grown high, and this increased conflicts between field owners and the school,” Mafereka says.

“We have had cases of girls being abducted while relieving themselves in these places,” she says.

Mafereka also says worst of all women would get raped and tortured while on their way to or from squatting areas or while they are relieving themselves.

Kampala says the villagers needed to have a sustainable system that will serve them and the generations to come and that will only be possible when they take good care of the new toilets that have already been built in their villages.

“This means that there has not been much improvement in the contamination of water because the same water that is being drawn in the constructed tanks and distributed to the taps has the possibility of being contaminated,” Kampala says.

He says those heading the project need to make this pilot project a success and be flexible enough to work around challenges that may arise.

“We want to see Thaba-Tseka as the number one district with regards to a free open defecation. We piloted this project here and it needs to be a reference for other districts in as far as water and sanitation is concerned,” Kampala says.

Kampala says their goal is to see Bobete as a free open defecation village which will be imitated by other villages.

“When this has happened then we would have reached our goal because then it would be easier for other districts to join in too,” he says.

Thabang Toloane, the Lesotho Red Cross Society’s WASH officer, says he hopes the Ministry of Education copies the new toilets they had built as they were hygienic for menstruating children.

The toilets have a sanitary towel disposal place as well as a hand washing facility.

“This helps girls to feel more free and comfortable while on their periods because they will be able to change and clean themselves privately,” Toloane says.

Toloane adds that the building of taps to allow children to wash hands after using the toilets should be reproduced in other schools and households.

Bobete Primary School has nine pit latrines and serves a population of 175 students while Marumo Primary school has 10 units and serves 224 students while the water project in Ha-Khoaisanyane will benefit 216 people while the project at Sekoting will cater for 148.

The Ha-Mojesi water project will likely benefit at least 250 people.

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