JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
FOR a long time, Elizabeth Banda, who does not know her own age, but looks well over 70, had no access to a proper toilet.
But thanks to Village Water Zambia, this old resident of George township now has something to smile about – a modern pit toilet.
Village Water is a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) that focuses on water and sanitation in the rural and peri-urban areas of Zambia
The organisation was established in 2007, with the objective of making safe water accessible to poor people.
The organisation is driven by the belief that poor communities need support in order to improve their lives and that access to water and sanitation is a right for every human being and is essential for people’s dignity, especially the vulnerable groups such as women and children.
Mrs Banda, who lives by herself with three orphaned grandchildren could not hide her gratitude for the facility that ended her suffering.
“Before they built this toilet, I used to make a simple toilet, but it usually used to curve in. I’m very happy with this toilet you built for me,” says Ms Banda,
The pit toilet is specially built with railing for easy use by elderly and disabled people such as Ms Banda. Village Water has built two such toilets in the townships and hopes to build more.
Many households in George township do not have toilets. Some residents still use plastic containers to defecate, and then dispose of them in the open air.
Violet Namiluko, one of the volunteers for Village Water, working in George township, is very familiar with the problem of hygiene in George township.
“When we came to this place last year, the waste was near the surface because the toilet was very shallow,” she explains, as we stand near the new pit toilet that Village Water built for Ms Banda.
Ms Namiluko, who has lived in the township for 30 years, says there is a lot of improvement in sanitation since the involvement of organisations such as Village Water in championing good sanitation and good hygiene.
“Generally I can say that some time back, sanitation used to be very bad. Nowadays, with the help of Village Water and some other organisations that are coming, at least the improvement is there,” she says.
Ms Namiluko says in the past, majority of residents used to fetch water from shallow wells, but most of them are now aware of the dangers of drinking water from such sources.
Working with the local environmental health technicians, Village Water has trained 40 volunteers in George township, and a similar number in Chawama township. The volunteers, in both townships, work with local clinics.
Village Water provides books for health education and also provides transport and allowances for the volunteers. Sometimes, they distribute chemicals such as chlorine for residents to treat their water.
The work of the volunteers, who conduct door-to-door health education campaigns, is bearing fruit.
In the past, the township dwellers often suffered from cholera and diarrhoeal diseases due to the filthy surroundings and drinking of water from shallow, untreated wells. George township has a population of around 180,000.
At the only public school in Lima Ward, where Village Water focusses its work, one school official said there has been a notable reduction in cases of diarrhoea among the more than 2,000 pupils.
Ms Namiluko says in some areas, the shallow wells have been buried, following sensitisation by Village Water about the dangers of drinking water from shallow wells.
Village Water has also given out potable labs for testing the quality of water at various water points.
The Lusaka Water and Sewage Company supplies piped water to the residents of George, but many still have no access to clean water, owing to the few water points.
And some residents, like Mrs Banda are too poor to afford the K20 charged per month.
Village Water also promotes solid waste management in George township.
One of the companies involved in solid waste management is Ciyanjano Enterprise. Nixon Tembo is director of the company, which was established in 2008.
“With the coming of Village Water, our work has become a lot easier in that there is capacity building at household level. There is health education being done door-to-door by Village Water on solid waste management,” says Mr Tembo.
But he says the biggest challenge is changing the mind-sets of the residents, who don’t consider paying for garbage collection as a priority.
He says Village Water has taught the residents on the importance of recycling waste.
The residents collect the clear plastic bottles and sell them to Ciyanjano Enterprise. Village Water has linked the enterprises to factories who buy the bottles for reuse.
She says people’s attitudes are slowly changing because they are aware that cholera comes from the use of shallow wells.
Village Water has trained the enterprise owners in business skills to enable them properly manage their businesses.
The sanitation campaign is all-encompassing and includes personal hygiene for girls, teaching them how best to use and dispose of sanitary pads, as well sensitising the communities on the importance of hand-washing.
Mampi Silumesii, who is project officer, says for the urban areas the most critical is sanitation due to congestion.
“When it comes to water supply, I think we have made good progress, especially in Western Province,” she says.
And it is in the rural districts of Western Province that Village Water has its biggest footprint by making safe drinking water accessible to more households.
The organisation started with hand-dug wells, but later adopted a manual drilling technique after realising that the former method was not efficient.
“We realised that the wells were getting dry because they did not go deep enough,” says Ms Silumesii.
Village Water has trained hundreds of people in manual drilling in Western Province. It is touted as one of the most successful projects that the NGO has undertaken in the provision of safe drinking water.
Village Water has trained 10 enterprises in making manual drilling machines in Mongu, Kaoma, Lukulu and Senanga, and supplied them with capital in form of equipment.
The manual drilling becomes handy especially in hard-to-reach areas, as they are very portable.
Today, there are more than 1,000 manually-drilled water points in Mongu, Kalabo, Senanga, Kaoma, Lukulu and Shangombo.
The NGO is now promoting manual drilling as a viable alternative in provision of clean and safe drinking water to communities, especially in western Zambia.
The organisation has also trained masons to build pit toilets in public schools.
“We looked at sustainability. If Village Water is not there, these projects must still continue,” says Happy Nyasulu, who is programmes manager for the NGO.
Village Water works with a number of agencies, including UNICEF, Oxfarm and Village Water UK, which have sponsored a number of their projects.
The organisation also works closely with Government, especially in formulating policy around water and sanitation.
Although Village Water has made the biggest impact in Western Province, it has recently spread it reach to North-Western, Copperbelt and Lusaka provinces.