After spending time in the neighboring villages of Dadazu and Dokoizia, you begin to get the feeling something special is going on. Many houses have new zinc roofs or have been extended and whitewashed. The open spaces are clean and well maintained, and much of the surrounding undergrowth has been cleared.
In a clearing, there’s a well-maintained communal pump. Down the road, a group of men are busy working on a concrete culvert to channel the stream which swells into a river during the rainy season. Further on, there is a small, neat schoolhouse. So what IS going on?
“Concern has made a big difference to this community,” Kokula Zaza says, standing by the pump. He’s the Town Chief of Dokoizia and is intimately involved in pretty much everything that happens around here. On this occasion, though, he’s not giving credit where credit is due.
“Everything that’s happened here over the past few years has been as a result of the commitment and investment of the community,” says Concern program manager Anthony Vandy. “We can facilitate and encourage and secure resources and help to coordinate – but without that commitment it would be wasted effort.”
There’s a list of official acronyms to describe the work that has gone on here, and it’s no accident that many of them begin with the letter C. Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is a tried and trusted way to encourage communities like Dokoizia to end open defecation and adopt safe hygiene practices.
“It’s not just about building toilets and hoping people use them,” says Anthony. “Yes, there are well-constructed latrines, with soap and tippy-taps and a clean water source, but more importantly there has been a collective change of behavior – because they understand how it can make life better for everyone.”
That change is a fundamental one. “For two years now, almost nobody here has had diarrhea,” Chief Zaza tells us. That’s a big deal, in a context where simple ailments can kill people in a frighteningly short space of time. And it’s a message that’s echoed around the village. Mama Koveva, a mother of seven, tells us, “Big changes here – no smell of feces…no diarrhea.”
If that C is about survival, the next C is about prosperity. The Community Savings and Loan Association (CSLA) is essentially a version of the hugely successful Credit Union movement. Members deposit small amounts of money, and when they have built up a good credit record, they can take out a loan to help fund a specific enterprise. It’s simple and it works.
Nearby, in Dadazu, Varbah Jenneh shows us around her shop, which is attached to the family home. “Before we joined the CSLA we were just doing farming and would sometimes sell a little extra produce to get money,” she says. “Joining was good for me.”
“Everything that’s happened here over the past few years has been as a result of the commitment and investment of the community,” says Concern program manager Anthony Vandy.
Varbah and her husband used their loan to buy products like sugar, biscuits, batteries and palm oil, and their little retail business has become a success. They built a new house and extension for the shop. “I used some profits also to pay for two of my children to go to school,” she says. “Next I want to put a zinc roof on our cookhouse.”
The couple still farms and they are members of the local Farmer Field School, which sadly for the purposes of this article doesn’t begin with a C, but which operates on the same principle as the other community initiatives. Farmers come together for training in new techniques and crops, hosted by Concern, and then raise collective plots from which they can learn, harvest crops, and get seeds for next season.
“Since our grandfathers’ time we would drink from the creek and be sick,” says Chief Zaza. “Now we have clean water, latrines, a feeder school for the younger kids, there is no garbage and no sickness. We have a lot to thank Concern for.”
That’s nice of you, Chief, but it wasn’t really us…