Monday, July 16, 2012

Stories from the Field: A Most Awe-Inspiring Week

By Alicia Majeau

Although I have already written two blogs about the happenings in Kidaago B, I asked my team if I could usurp the right to reflect upon life in the village once again.  This was, in no way, due to any particular affinity for writing on my part, but simply because this past week is the one I feel has been the most awe-inspiring for me, and likely the most impactful for our community.  The week of July 9 was the sanitation week for Kidaago B.  During this period of time, we shared the results of our sanitation baseline survey with the community, trained the Village Health Team members in building basic sanitation structures, and went compound-to-compound, trying to improve individual households’ sanitation.  Over the course of the three days of the actual sanitation push, my team (working in cooperation with our awesome housemates from Kidaago A) built a total of 38 tippy-taps (hand-washing devices), built or improved 27 trash pits, built or improved 15 plate stands, built 12 latrine covers, created drainage for two washrooms, and helped begin or improve 10 latrines.  While many of these terms may seem arbitrary and their impact vague to those who are unfamiliar with sanitation in a village setting, they are all hugely important, yet fairly simple, devices or steps that can be taken to protect water sources, reduce disease, and generally improve health.

My awe at this week does not, however, come from these numbers that reflect sanitation improvement, or even from the incredible tenacity of my teammates and housemates, facing long hours in the field laboring under a hot sun.  Instead, my awe is inspired by the eagerness of the villagers to improve their community’s health.  To begin with, Kidaago B has some incredible Village Health Team members.  One man in particular, always eager to serve his community, spent all three days of the sanitation push working with us to assist his neighbors.  Even after we had finished working hours at the end of the day on Friday, this VHT, Awali, requested that we leave him materials to continue the work for a couple more hours independently.

The three days also resulted in story after story of people putting in more effort to improve sanitation than I ever expected.  In order to convey a sense of ownership, we charge 500 shillings (a subsidized price) for materials in order to build a tippy-tap.  One man, in particular, claimed he did not have the money necessary for such a hand-washing device.  Upon witnessing us build his neighbor one and teach both the adults and children the proper method of hand washing, he eagerly asked us if we could build him one as well, suddenly finding a way to afford it.  My team also found family after family who had chopped wood prior to our arrival for use in building a tippy-tap or plate stand.  Word spread like wildfire throughout the village that we were moving around doing this push, and the response was overwhelming.  The appreciation of the villagers, when I, myself, was appreciating them and their efforts so much, made every bead of sweat and muscle ache entirely worth it.  It is difficult to say whether this effort will continue once my team has left, but I truly believe that with the help and guidance of the VHT that I cannot say enough good things about, Kidaago B will soon be a village to be rivaled in sanitation levels.

Alicia Majeau is an incoming graduate student in the Molecular Microbiology and Immunology Department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She interned with UVP in 2011 and returned this summer to serve as an Administrative Team Leader in Kidaago B village. 

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