27 year old Charles Kabiyawo is a sanitation champion in his community of Kamoto village, Chikhwawa district, southern Malawi. Married, with one child, Charles resolved to sacrifice his time and energy to help people in his community construct latrines so that they stop open defecation.

“Besides being an artisan, I consider myself a sanitation champion too. My desire is to see more households own latrines. For every latrine I construct I charge MK250.00 only which is slightly more than half a US dollar and almost six times less than what normal construction workers would charge for the same piece of work,” said Charles. His colleagues in the trade charge MK1, 500. 00 - about three and half dollars - per latrine.

Following interventions by Plan Malawi led Global Sanitation Fund project being implemented by Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), Kamoto is one of the villages that resolved to quit open defecation and start using latrines.

In 2013, DAPP organized a three month construction training course for community based masons to help them acquire skills in latrine construction. Charles was the only mason from his village who participated in the training.

By July 2014, Charles had already constructed more than fifty latrines for households in his village as well as in neighboring communities, thereby helping in the fight against open defecation in Malawi.

“I was already involved in construction work before the training but I was not as organized as I am right now,” said Charles.

Offered by Mikolongwe Vocational School, the training brought together both experienced and inexperienced builders. A total of 202 masons graduated from the training which, according to DAPP’s GSF Project Leader in Chikhwawa McDonald Kammanja, has helped reduce cases of latrine collapsing in the communities.

“One of the challenges we face here is the collapsing of latrines due to the type of soil in this area. By early 2013, up to one hundred latrines had collapsed because of rains, thereby tempting household owners to revert to open defecation. With the training of masons who construct durable latrines, only two or three structures per village had collapsed by the end of the rainy season in March 2014,” said Kammanja.

Lyson Chaleka, a villager whose latrine was constructed by Charles said that he could have done it on his own. However, he sought the services of a mason because he believed wanted a structure that would last. According to him, owning a latrine brings dignity.

“Before the completion of my latrine I was using other family members’ latrines’ but it is important for every household to have its own latrines, as well as hand washing facilities and drop-hole covers,” said Lyson.

The training of masons in latrine construction and other sanitation elements under the GSF programme supports a bigger strategy developed by the government of Malawi in 2010, to ensure an open defecation free country by 2015.

According to the chairperson of the National Sanitation and Hygiene Coordinating Unite Mr Humphrey’s Masuku, Malawi’s ODF status currently stands at 19%.

The World Bank estimates that poor sanitation costs Malawi up to 8.8 billion Kwacha – about twenty two million US dollars – annually, hence the need for accelerated efforts and strategic interventions if Malawi is to become ODF by 2015.