The Solomon Islands has a reputation for being laid back and the smiling, barefooted airlines hostess that greets me at the grassy strip formerly known as Fera Airport, in Isabel Province, portrays this in typical fashion. Coconut palms sway in the gentle breeze and as the 10 seater plane slides back down the muddy island runway, the hostess laughs guiltily from our transit boat, telling me that the plane came and went ahead of schedule, leaving passengers on the two boats heading our way stranded. Nobody seems too phased.
I’ve been extremely excited for this trip. We (Plan International Australia) have recently established a partnership with Live & Learn Solomon Islands and in July 2016 began a WASH program in Isabel Province to build on the (slow) progress being made with CLTS in the country. It was back in 2012 that I wrote a case study Spreading the word, not the shit: CLTS trials in the Solomon Islands after trials of CLTS were conducted in Malaita Province and it had taken until this year, in 2016, for the first no open defecation (NOD) village to be declared with support from the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and Live & Learn. In Solomon Pijin the term ‘open defecation free’ infers a legitimacy for people to openly defecate as ‘freely’ as they like, and hence the coining of another phrase and requisite acronym; NOD.
In August, under the Plan / Live & Learn SI project, 10 villages have been ‘triggered’ in partnership with the Solomon Islands Government, Ministry of Health’s, Rural Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program (RWASH). It’s early days, but the vigour with which these communities are attacking their sanitation issues tells a different story to the laid back attitude the region is famous for.
We arrived in Kologaru Village in Northern Isabel Province, a 20-minute boat ride from Buala Station, to find several households feverishly constructing latrines in the heat of the morning. I met Mr Gabriel, a member of the recently formed (by the project) village WASH Committee who was constructing the last wall to finish off his new latrine. Gabriel talked passionately about the need to improve the village’s sanitation. He had spent the whole day prior, a designated day for community work, travelling from house to house either supporting those who have started constructing latrines or helping those who hadn’t to ‘peg out’ a site and begin. He also smugly relived a strong discussion with the village chief, owner of the only ‘flushing toilet’ in the village. ‘I told Chief to dig an absorption pit for his toilet.’ The waste pipe is currently directed into a stream. We need to protect our environment and have a proper latrine’ said Gabriel.
We visited Joseph, the lead ‘community facilitator’ from the WASH Committee who was trained to support CLTS activities and from house to house we went, inspecting new latrines and finding several people mid-construction. Joseph explained to me that of the 49 households in the village, 19 have started construction and the remaining 30 now have a site pegged out. The village is targeting the end of September for NOD verification.
Live & Learn’s key staff member on the ground, Frida Poi’te, has been leading the triggering and follow-ups. She recalls to me the power of the children chanting and singing about their desires for sanitation, which brought the village parents and other members to tears during the triggering. Frida also values good pre-triggering consultation to clarify the objectives of the process and set aside any cultural taboos related to sanitation.
The project has worked closely with the local government to implement the project and has trained village members to support triggering activities. This has embedded strong leadership, knowledge and accountability within each village, whilst also allowing a majority of the triggering to be conducted in local language, with experienced project facilitators chipping in to support at critical times.
With the JMP indicators suggesting 85% of the rural population don’t access an improved latrine (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program 2015) and a recent national WASH baseline survey indicating only 6% of people in Isabel Province access an improved latrine, the need is paramount. Though it is still early days for CLTS in Solomon Islands, the energy and progress in Isabel Province might just be the answer to many questions being asked by key decision makers.
The Plan International/Live & Learn project will train some builders on latrine construction to improve the technical understanding within villages while improving availability of improved hardware. Further, these masons will be connected with village savings and loans clubs to improve financing for sanitation. Some School Led Total Sanitation activities are also on the cards to support the CLTS activities and the project will provide some operations and maintenance training to support minor repairs of existing water supply systems while improving their ongoing sustainability.
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Tom Ranking is Programme Manager WASH for Plan International Australia.