There is something striking as soon as one arrives in Tilla Village: how clean it is. Both major paths and narrow passes are neat. Public spaces, such as the mosque, school and square, are carefully swept. The village forge, which previously literally held a pile of dirt, is now clear. No garbage is scattered across the ground.
It all started when this village in Zinder Region, Niger, banned open defecation. Now, in Tilla, a sanitation committee is in charge of galvanizing and promoting the village’s overall health, empowering one member for each specific neighborhood. Each family now has a functional and well-maintained latrine (the village has a total of 37 traditional latrines for 30 households). Without any subsidy or financial incentive, all the heads of households built latrines with local materials such as bricks and clay dried in the sun, called banco. The latrine’s depth depends on the number of family members and their own financial means.
Village leaders, including the civil servants, the village chief, local imam and community families came together to form a community-led sanitation strategy as part of an event in January 2016, organized by NCBA CLUSA’s resilience project in the area: USAID | REGIS–ER.
The community-led sanitation strategy, known as “Total,” raised awareness of the danger of open defecation. Tilla villagers walked along the streets to look for and map feces. They calculated the weight of everything collected and calculated what that would mean daily, monthly, annually, for the whole village. Many of the community members were shocked.
According to the World Bank, open defecation costs Niger around US$128 million each year. The UNO also highlighted that, each day, 1,000 children die from diseases that could be easily prevented by improving hygiene and sanitation. Lack of sanitation—and, particularly, open defecation—contributes to the incidence of diarrhea and to the spread of intestinal parasites, which in turn cause 50 percent of malnutrition causes. Improved access to hygiene and sanitation is therefore crucial to ensure life and also enhance health and strength, especially in children.
“What made a big impression on me was when a small quantity of feces was put into a glass of water and participants were asked to drink. Of course, no one accepted the drink. Although, of course, this is what happens when our feces gets into the soil,” said Boukary Aalou, who participated in the awareness training.
Many people also remember the village map drawn on the ground to identify places that were worse than others for this issue. “Everybody was embarrassed when the trainer asked for the part of village that had the most [incidences of open defecation]. Only a child dared to answer,” said Talatouwa Yacouba, a 37-year-old female farmer.
Yacoubou Kanta, the village chief—whose commitment has been key in the change of Tilla—confided that he was feeling ashamed to see his village in this situation, but that it was certainly a catalyst for change.
“Above all, I understood that we had the power in our hands to make our village clean, and that we could build our own latrines for the well-being of our families,” added Houdou Kanta, a farmer in his 50s.
Strong commitment at the individual, family and community levels
The community responded to the seriousness of hygiene and sanitation issues and demonstrated a deep will to take action in order to eradicate them. “My father participated in the large training assembly on the importance of sanitation. With my elder brothers, he built a latrine for us with banco bricks. All members of the family are proud and relieved to use it,” said Ali Saadé, a student who now helps his brother clean the yard and the area surrounding their house every three days.
“I now feel healthier than ever and I can see there are far less mosquitos in the village. Actually, it looks like diarrheas and malaria are less frequent in our village now,” noted another student Neinabou Moudaha, understanding how this issue affects health and nutrition across the community.
Food hygiene also became a feature during family meals. The whole community was able to rally around the issue, including the iman, who pointed to tenants of Islam that praise cleanliness.
Many households also began to repurpose their food scraps and other garbage into compost, which supported the conservation farming techniques used by gardens and fields around the village. Women’s groups had a ready compost pile for their sustainable agriculture, and the village was able to recycle food scraps.
The sanitation committee is up and running
The village started a health and sanitation committee to implement their community-developed strategy. The committee set health and cleanliness days where everyone sweeps and cleans up common areas and a village contribution of 50 FCFA (about 10 cents) per family to keep the village clean.
“The committee members have been well chosen; they are truly respected by the community,” Talatouwa said. Families who are not represented on the cleaning days are fined and the fund goes to buying new rakes and brooms when necessary. All in all, Talatouwa noted, “the whole village changed in a positive way.”
Tilla renamed “the cleanliness capital” by surrounding villages
Following this evolution, the village was declared free from open defecation in August during a ceremony organized by the local department administrative center, Bandé. Ever since, the village reputation regarding environmental and personal cleanliness has spread across the region.
Delegations from more than 10 villages have come to Tilla asking for advice. The village was even renamed Birni Tsapta or “the cleanliness capital” in Hausa, the local language.
Since the event, 16 other villages in Zinder have embraced the Community-Led Total Sanitation approach. Though they were not originally in the USAID | REGIS-ER zone, these communities all saw the benefit of community-led sanitation teams and how good governance can make a difference. Over 100 latrines have been built and more than ten health and sanitation committees have been organized by the communities. Seeing the effects in Tilla, good ideas spread.