Isabel (Part 2)

Once the excitement of Isabel being in Isabel subsided, it was time to focus on work.  I had joined a group of people from UNICEF Solomon Islands, Fiji and Kiribati to look at the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) program that was started in late 2014.

As with most work plans, our agenda for the trip was thrown out in the first five minutes and replaced with something far more relevant, and incredibly more ambitious.  Rather than simply monitoring the existing CLTS programs, we were going to train 10 representatives from 2 communities in the CLTS approach, and then put it into action with a complete Pre-Trigger, Trigger and Follow-Up of one community.

The challenge came with the fact that we had not prepared to do CLTS training and so did not have the appropriate resources.  Also that the CLTS training normally takes 5 days and we were to do it in 3 hours.  Oh, and that of the two people qualified to train in CLTS, neither one spoke Solomon Islands’ Pidjin.  Easy.

Full credit must go to the amazing community representatives, and the local staff from UNICEF, who accepted this challenge with great gusto.  They really underwent a baptism by fire, and came out only slightly singed and full of enthusiasm.  This chaotic and jam-packed program also reinvigorated my belief in the CLTS approach and reminded me of how much fun my work really can be.

It all started with the Pre-Triggering, where we sat down with the Chiefs, Catechist, Youth Leaders and Women’s leaders from Kolomola village.  We were there to introduce the program and arrange a time and date for the whole-of-community Triggering.  Any successful CLTS program starts with a successful Pre-Triggering, which means empowering the community leaders to really take the lead, and also getting them to agree on a crude local word for shit.  As we witnessed in Kolomola, this is not as easy as it sounds.

Strong culture dictates that the only way to respectfully discuss faeces is through respectful terminology, and despite our attempts to persuade them otherwise, there was little inclination to budge.  However, after multiple attempts, we had a “breakthrough moment” where they finally realised that shit is shit, and open shit is bad, and that bad open shit needs to be discussed openly if we want to stop it from being bad shit.  So, in stark contrast from the start of the meeting, we left Kolomola with its community leaders yelling out “Ta’e” – the Meninge word for shit.

The following day, we returned to Kolomola for the community-wide Triggering.  This is where the facilitators run through a series of activities that allow community members to realise that the current practice of open defecation ultimately results in them eating their own shit.  None of this is achieved through lecturing or teaching, though.  Nope, it is all based around probing questions and demonstrations that get people to reflect and come to their own conclusions.

Kolomola community didn’t miss a beat.  By the time the community had mapped their community and sites of open defecation, it didn’t take them long to recognise that they were eating shit.  In fact, the first testimony came from the Catechist:  “I speared a fish in the stream then bit its head off (apparently they do that here).  Then I smelled something funny and looked down and saw that I had just bitten into shit”.  From there, people were so determined to step forward and share their experience, that we had trouble stopping them.

What did stop them, was the entrance of the community’s 70-odd children chanting and asking why they were being forced to eat shit.  As the leader of the group stepped forward to recite a speech, tears welled and her voice broke, creating a pretty high impact message to those parents present.

From there it was the Shit Calculation (how much shit does your community produce in a year, and more importantly, where does it all go?), followed by the Medical Calculation (how much does it cost you to eat shit?).

Then it was the community walk to a site of open defecation.  This is always my favourite part.  This is where people are so disgusted by the sight and smell of shit, yet are so curious about it all, that they are pushing and shoving to get closer.  It is the pinnacle of CLTS, where the movement of flies between shit and a nearby plate of food really brings home the point that when we openly defecate we really do eat our own shit.

Hands up who wants to end Open Defecation?

Hands up who wants to end Open Defecation?

Kolomola Village was so triggered by the day’s activities that they vowed to become Open Defecation Free within 2 weeks.  As our team went to leave, the community lined up to shake our hands, tell us that “this is the best program we’ve seen”, and then sing and dance for us until we were long out of sight.  I really do love my job.

The next day we returned to Kolomola as part of a monitoring visit.  This immediate follow-up is essential to ensure the CLTS message stays strong, and to keep the community motivated and focused on their life-changing goal.  We were ecstatic to catch the Catechist in the process of digging his pit – one of four pits that had already been dug in the 24 hours since triggering.  It was a promising start.

Unfortunately, that’s all that time allowed for during my visit to Isabel.  However, I heard through my people on the ground that Kolomola has continued to dig pits, and that they are on track to meet their ODF date.  If they do this, they will be the first community in the country to be declared Open Defecation Free.  Now that’s some good shit!

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