Liberia: Hygiene for healthier and happier communities
Building latrines and changing hygiene habits supports development. So the Liberian Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the ICRC are building latrines and training volunteers to improve sanitation habits in their communities.
Nikpachilu is a tiny village of 20 families in Maryland County, nestling between a vast hevea plantation, the forest and cassava fields.
In 2011, the Liberian Red Cross and the ICRC assessed hygiene practices in remote areas, including Nikpachilu. The results were clear: hygiene and sanitation had to improve.
"Most remote communities had no clean water," says Marie Freeman, a Liberian Red Cross hygiene officer. "Basic hygiene habits were unknown. Things like washing your hands after using the latrine, or putting kitchen utensils on a stand instead of the floor. People were using the fields and forests for bathing and as a toilet." Poor sanitation was the main cause of waterborne diseases.
The situation demanded more than just wells, water pumps and latrines. The hygiene habits and thinking of communities had to change.
"For the sake of efficiency, and to ensure that everyone picked up good hygiene habits, we trained several volunteers from each community to teach and motivate the families," Marie explains. "We also convinced people to build stands for kitchen utensils, dispose of waste food properly, manage wells appropriately, use existing latrines and build others if possible, instead of defecating in the open."
Volunteer hygiene promoters
Victor is a young, dynamic farmer from Nikpachilu. He underwent training as a volunteer hygiene promoter, and the ICRC and Liberian Red Cross team has been monitoring his progress. Two years on, he continues to promote hygiene in his community, and was proud to show us the improvements during a recent visit.
"At the beginning we had to keep on repeating the same hygiene instructions. We almost had to force families to store kitchen utensils properly, dispose of waste food appropriately and wash their hands before touching food," Victor tells us. "As time went on, they noticed that some diseases were becoming less common, their children were getting healthier and the community was spending less on medical treatment."
During our visit, we noticed that there were small water containers next to each latrine, each house had a bamboo stand for kitchen utensils and families were using the communal latrines and baths instead of the forest. We even saw the first latrine and bath built privately by a family.
"Using the forest was difficult for my wife, with our small children. After I saw the facilities built by the Red Cross and talked to the ICRC hygiene teams, I decided to build a latrine and a bathroom for my family," says farmer Steven Moore.
The village is remote, and the Liberian Red Cross lacks both resources and appropriate transport, so their teams are now visiting Nikpachilu only twice a year. But Victor is continuing his duties as a volunteer hygiene promoter. "As children grow up, they need to adopt these new habits," he says. He will also continue to manage the village hand pump, the only source of clean water for the 20 families of Nikpachilu.