A long time ago, communities had vibrant sanitation and hygiene initiatives at village levels. Led by Local Council I chairpersons, people would join efforts to eliminate habitats for disease causing vectors. Leaflets were dropped around villages to ensure everyone gets the message about cleaning activities. Once the LC made the call, everybody would quickly go to assembly points.
Residents respected and heeded their leaders’ invitation to participate in communal activities. These sanitation drives took place monthly on Saturdays. It was preceded by a meeting where the LCs briefed them about the scope of work, with clear objectives and the community members would collectively clear and widen bushy foot paths, drain all stagnant waters and protect water wells.
Members also mobilised materials to build pit latrines. This was done in turns, from homestead to homestead. Members who dodged such projects were fined. Passersby were intercepted and asked to contribute. They would either join groups to work or pay a specified fee. It was possible to achieve this because communities were fully involved in projects that they knew had health and hygiene benefits.
Community participation is important because it keeps residents close to their leaders and they see the benefits of such programmes. They can, therefore, be compelled to not only invest resources into schemes aimed at improving hygiene and sanitation, but also extend the same spirit to other schemes such as savings. The sense of ownership makes them share benefits.
Community participation should, therefore, not be ignored. In the olden days, the impacts created by community-led drives were evident in villages.
Recurrent cases of diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, bilharzia, malaria and cholera were rare compared to today. Bushes grow and breed mosquitoes, and People share water sources with domestic animals. Despite spending significant sums of money on projects aimed at promoting good sanitation and hygiene, there have been outbreaks of diseases - cholera, jiggers and malaria - around the country.
The idea of working together as communities is slowly dying. Community hygiene customs that involve people working together for better health and a cleaner environment are waning. Let us not deviate from a working formula.