Monday, 4 January 2016

Building Toilets, Saving Lives

By Nick Baker, Communication and Knowledge Management Officer

Vikensa Hamakonda’s future is a little brighter. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Nick Baker

Ten-month-old Vikensa Hamakonda looks curiously at the latest addition to his family home. It’s an outdoor toilet built from bamboo and tin. But this simple structure may end up saving Vikensa’s life.

On the island of Sumba (NTT), open defecation has been an accepted practice for as long as most people here can remember. Unbeknownst to many, this is endangering the lives of countless children in the region.

The pathogens from faeces left in the open can easily enter a community’s food and water chain. This leads to a raft of health problems, which particularly affect children.

Around Sumba there are stories of young children dying from diarrhea  – which can be caused by poor sanitation.  It also impacts on their growth as poor sanitation is linked to high rates of malnutrition.

UNICEF is supporting a number of programmes to end open defecation in Sumba. One of these is helping local health workers to hold “triggering sessions”. Triggering sessions are health and sanitation workshops that are conducted in individual villages. They involve dramatic demonstrations of how faeces in the open can make children sick.

A triggering session was recently held at Vikensa’s village. His father, Letu, attended. “It was a very powerful experience,” he says. “I learnt how germs from faeces from outside my house could get back into my family’s food.” The final message was simple: build and use a toilet.

The event had a lasting impact on Letu. Previously, his family would defecate in a small area behind their house. But not anymore. Letu has built a toilet. And many other villagers are doing the same.

This means that children like Vikensa will help get the best possible start to life.