Attaining an open defecation free status seems an impossible feat for Balaka as a district. But not to Ireen Taombe, a member of the Balaka District Coordinating Team (DCT).

“By 2015, our target is to have a Balaka that is open defecation free and this is not just a wish but we will realize that goal,” declares Ireen Taombe, a member of the Balaka District Coordinating Team (DCT) responsible for coordinating the implementation of a Global Sanitation Fund financed project in the district.

Attaining an open defecation free status seems an impossible feat for Balaka as a district. But not to Taombe.

“It’s possible, thanks to the Global Sanitation Fund money we get through Plan Malawi.

“Presently in the district we have two NGOs sub-granted by Plan Malawi to promote sanitation and hygiene and ensure that Balaka is open defecation free,” explains Taombe.

One of the NGOs, Concern Universal (CU), is working in the areas of Traditional Authorities Kalembo and Msamala. CU is integrating CLTS with sanitation marketing and School Led Total Sanitation.

According to Marie Mapemba, Field Facilitator for Concern Universal in Balaka, the project’s target is to trigger 247 villages in the two T/As.

“So far we have triggered 159 villages and 101 of these have already been declared ODF,” explains Mapemba.

The Field Facilitator is confident that the target will be met, especially that there is great collaboration between project staff, District Coordinating Members and Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) who are government extension workers.

“Successful triggering of the villages depends on our cooperation with stakeholders such as DCT and HSAs and their involvement.

“We therefore started the project with training of these,” Mapemba says.

In addition to enabling the people analyse the sanitation situation in their communities CU trained 67 masons to build latrines, slabs and foot-operated hand washing facilities commonly referred to as ‘Gear’.

According to Mapemba, the project did not just aim at getting community members to construct just any other latrine but an improved toilet, complete with a cover and hand washing facility so that the families are protected from diseases such as diarrhea.

Mmanira Village in T/A Kalembo is one of the villages that have attained an Open Defecation Free status.

With 98 households, the village had 89 toilets. Only 19 of these had san-plat covers. There were just 57 bathrooms in the village. Today the village has 94 toilets complete with covers and hand washing facilities and the number of bath-rooms has moved from 57 to 82. Community members can testify to the impact of the project in their areas.

“We now rarely suffer from water-borne diseases because hygiene has improved in our village and we are always working together to ensure that we don’t lose our status,” says Gogo Mwaiwa.

According to Gogo Mwaiwa the village has also taken keen interest to teach young ones on proper usage of the toilet so that they grow up accustomed to pursuing good sanitation and hygiene practices.

These positive developments notwithstanding, a lot still needs to be done in some villages like Kunena in the same Traditional Area, Kalembo. Some households still find it hard to have their toilets, preferring to use their neighbors’ instead.

“It’s one of the challenges we are working on,” points out Mapemba.

“We are not relenting and we will follow up on these communities until people’s behavior changes,” she adds.

Marshal Zenengeya, another DCT member, shares this optimism, banking his hope on the positive working relationship between the DCT, HSAs and CU.

“Every time a village is certified ODF, there are celebrations organized by the communities themselves and this to some extent motivates other villages to follow suit,” he says.

CU is not alone in Balaka. Some areas of the district are covered by Training Support for Partners (TSP) working in T/A Msamala and Sub T/As Sawali, Chanthunya and Nkaya.

“We have only managed to trigger 160 out of the targeted 300 villages because we haven’t had funding for some time,” says TSP Community Facilitator in the district Gift Chammagomo.

“Once we get funding we will intensify our follow ups and trigger more villages to help a lot of communities attain an ODF status and improve their sanitation,” reassures Chammagomo.