Helping communities in Bomet County become Open Defecation Free

We're really excited to be in the process of working with the county government to scale up our programme of Community Led Total Sanitation, or CLTS.

CLTS was first developed in Bangladesh around the turn of the 21st Century, and is basically a response to the patchy record NGOs had prior to this of eradicating the practice of open defecation. In hindsight, the problem with historic approaches to rural sanitation are reasonably well understood: that exclusively focusing on providing toilets rather than getting buy-in from the beneficiaries wasn't sustainable. It resulted in too many failed projects with poorly maintained toilets, and no clear ownership. It also meant people involved in these schemes often ended up cynical and disillusioned by the perceived condescension of international NGOs. Despite this, it took the development of CLTS to find a model for eliminating open defecation that actually worked.

The principle behind it is to engage with communities directly. We go into a community and enlist the help of local people to organise a big meeting, called a triggering event. This event is the most important part of CLTS, and it's where a Public Health expert takes the community through the social and medical impacts of open defecation. This phase isn't supposed to be pretty. It's important that there's no euphemisms, and so we talk about shit, not poo. And we talk about what it means to eat food that's been in contact with shit, the effect it can have on their child's health, and the collective embarrassment of this for the community. This even involves going on a 'transect walk', where we take community members around the village, point out where open defecation has happened, and trace the route shit can take from the ground to someone's mouth.

The photo is of a field and the ground is covered in green grass. There is a group of people sat on the floor with the backs to the camera and two trainers standing up delivering training to the group.
A triggering event taking place with community members

The aim of all this is to spur the community into action. They create an action plan on how to achieve an open defecation free (ODF) environment that includes collective responsibility amongst the whole village. Where one house doesn't have the time or resources to build a toilet, other families can step in. Our team continues to support the village as they work towards this goal, and within a couple of months they are usually successful, and are then certified at the national level. The existence of national level certification of ODF is really important here because it makes the achievement more tangible, and gives the community a space to be proud of what they've achieved. And these achievements are no small feat: the lack of public funds for sanitation provision in Kenya make this collective action to eliminate open defecation the only option.

Helping communities in Bomet County become Open Defecation Free

Dig Deep's pilot programme in six communities in Bomet County last year was the first time that any village in Bomet had been declared Open Defecation Free, so a lot of the focus of our work this year is to roll out the programme, to create localised hubs so that hygienic practices and lessons learned can be easily spread from village to village.

As the instigators of a CLTS approach in Bomet, we at Dig Deep feel responsible for ensuring that this achievement isn't a temporary thing, so we continue to support the villages we've worked with and county government to go beyond eliminating open defecation. We have follow up meetings to solve problems with the toilets that have been built, give communities help in setting up businesses that improve the toilets they have, and train local people to make more permanent toilets.

The first toilet a household builds for themselves won't be the most expensive or luxurious. But it will be the first vital step on the sanitation ladder, and we're committed to making sure we support the people we work with to get to good quality, sustainable sanitation in the future.

Household latrine constructed of corrugated metal and wood is in the centre of the image. To the left is woman washing her hands. To the right there is a man holding a bowl and assisting with hand washing. The latrine is situated in luscious green farmland.
Example of a household latrine