A traditional leader in Ntchisi district, central Malawi, has commended natural leaders in his village for the role that they are playing in promoting Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS)in their community where a GSF supported project is being implemented.

Village headman Chamba of Traditional Authority Chikho in the district expressed his sentiments in an exclusive interview following revelations that he relied on natural leaders more than government extension workers in post-triggering follow up activities that earned his village an ODF status.

Natural leaders are community members identified during triggering sessions to support their community by making follow ups to ensure sanitation targets set by the communities themselves are met and sustained.

Villagers in Chamba earlier indicated that they did not relate well with the Health Surveillance Assistants assigned to their area, which prevented them from taking the government extension worker’s advice on latrine construction and other sanitation issues.

According to village head Chamba, sanitation was not a priority among his subjects.

“When my village was triggered in May 2013 only eight of the total twenty five households had latrines and these few did not have hand washing facilities and drop hole covers,” revealed the traditional leader.

“As if that was not bad enough, progress towards an ODF status slowed miserably as my subjects were not ready to cooperate with the extension workers because of poor social relations between the two sides,” said the village head.

One year after the triggering in 2013, members of Chamba village were still practicing open defecation and this prompted verification team members from neighboring communities to visit Chamba village.

“They stopped over to discuss with us the effects of open defecation and share experiences on what other communities including our neighbouring village which was already open defecation free were doing.

“I felt bad when one verification team member, an Environmental Health Officer Mr Mtonga, remarked that we ought to pity ourselves for continuously eating shit just because of bad relations between the extension worker and my subjects. This prompted me and other community members to opt for natural leaders, instead of the Health Surveillance Assistant, to intensify follow up activities,” recalled the village headman.

According to the village headman, the natural leaders were assigned to visit households every week to ensure that everyone had a latrine with hand washing facilities and drop-hole covers.

Records indicate that the tactic carved wonders as a month of such follow ups by the natural leaders led to the village’s attainment of an ODF status.

That this has been the case is not surprising. Even Malawi’s open defecation free strategy recognises natural leaders as having proved to be key in helping villages to achieve the much-sought-after ODF status.

Meanwhile, the reliance of natural leaders in sanitation promotion has attracted positive feedback from GSF Sanitation and Hygiene Technical Specialist at Plan Malawi Twitty Munkhondia.

“It is a very good initiative because when communities do things on their own there is a lot of ownership and this is good for the sustainability of the project,” said Munkhondia.

The sanitation project in the area of Traditional Authority Chikho is being implemented by World Vision Malawi with funding from the Global Sanitation Fund through Plan Malawi.