We are ready! Chiefs vow to achieve district ODF.

Senior Chiefs and Traditional Authorities from all the six GSF districts in Malawi have unanimously pledged to support the Accelerated Sanitation and Hygiene Practices Programme (ASHPP) in its bodacious bid to achieve district-wide ODF in at least 3 districts by June 2017.

The pledges were made in six separate district conferences where the traditional leaders signed declarations to signal their full support to the cause and their determination to make the ambition a reality. The declarations were also signed by District Council Chairpersons, in full witness of the Programme Coordinating Mechanism (PCM) Chairperson, the GSF Chief-of-Party and the Country Programme Monitor (CPM) representative.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t simply about signing a document. It was an activity strategically designed to enhance coordination, commitment and synergy among the district leadership, TAs and all sector players towards achieving district ODF with improved sanitation for the people.

This was achieved. The conferences drew all relevant stakeholders together and facilitated honest and participatory discussions. Apart from the aforesaid parties, the conferences also attracted the presence of GSF sub-grantees and other organisations in the Water and Sanitation Sector in each respective district. Their understanding of the challenges preventing quick ODF achievement in the communities as explained by the chiefs was expected to improve programming in future.

One of the challenge which most of the chiefs shared was the TAs not having enough authority to berate headmen failing to enforce agreed sanitation bylaws in their villages. They cited that current national legislation does not give then power over the latter. This challenge was reiterated almost in all the conferences forcing the District Councils to pledge support for the Chiefs to ensure that the bylaws are adhered to and enforced accordingly.

Beyond discussing the prevailing community level challenges, the conferences also made a deliberate move to allow the Chiefs to appreciate what their colleagues from other parts of Africa are doing and perhaps learn from them. Interesting lessons from Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar and Mozambique were shared and one major practice that was hugely appealing was conducting a quarterly Full Council meetings in which all TAs meet and report their progress to the district’s most Senior Chief so that all sanitation and hygiene activities are closely monitored and challenges are dealt with in time.

Speaking during the one of the meetings, Senior Chief Chiwalo of Phalombe commended the conference in his district stressing how pleasing it was to have senior officers from Capitol Hill present to discuss sanitation issues with them.

He however lamented the fact that despite latrines being a very old issue amongst them and something that must have been dealt with a long time ago, people still defecate in the bush.

In his view, the project missed out by not targeting other opinion leaders like politicians and church leaders who have so much power to influence people to change their behaviours.

Noting how important the visits were in stirring up the ODF agenda in the districts, Team Leader for the mission and PCM Secretary, Ms. Emma Mbalame, acknowledged the need to make follow up visits and ensure that the momentum does not subside.

The conferences were convened by District Councils with support from the Programme Coordinating Mechanism (PCM) and the Executing Agency (EA) as part of the PCM’s periodic monitoring visits to the GSF impact districts and as follow up to similar conferences that were held in 2015 in all the impact districts to share the lessons learnt from AfricaSan4 Conference.