The lack of suitable latrines is not just a failure of personal hygiene and a risk to public health – it is also an affront to individual dignity.
“Little children in the community use to see me when I would go to defecate in the bushes,” lamented Raky Sow, a grandmother living in Ganki, a village in the Brakna region of Mauritania.
Her community traditionally had no sanitation facilities, but that didn’t make the problem easier. She resented the fact that she was forced to urinate and defecate in the open areas around her village. Sometimes, during the rainy season, there might be behind bushes to hide behind
Her advancing age made her more dependent making it challenging to find suitable places by herself. Worse, having struggled to find somewhere, local children would often happen upon her in a vulnerable position.
“It was very embarrassing to have children young enough to be my grandchildren stumble upon me,” said Raky, admitting the immense shame and discomfort from such incidents.
The community also knew that open defecation was a health risk, but few had any idea how to install hygiene facilities. They had no choice but to do what they knew to be harmful.
In 2017, World Vision partnered with the people of Ganki, launching a water, sanitation and hygiene programme there. The organisation provided the community and neighbours with water sources, and trained people in sound hygiene and sanitation practices, emphasising latrine construction and proper hand-washing.
Raky became an enthusiastic proponent of the new teachings, seeing an answer to her desire for such facilities and good practices to take root in her neighbourhood. World Vision provided 10 household latrines, typically costing US$250 each, for the most vulnerable people identified by the community – widows, the aged and families with disabled members.
“Today, I no longer need anyone to go with me when I want to use the facilities,” said Raky, referring to her new latrine. “I use it when I need to, and I make sure to keep it clean.” Raky also makes sure she washes her hands, understanding that her age makes her a role model. The woman who once risked daily indignity is now a champion of hygiene and sanitation in her community.
Most homes in her Ganki now have access to household and community latrines. The expense is kept low as materials are locally sourced, making it more likely that the step forward in sanitation will last.
“When I use the bathroom, there’s no chance anyone will see me,” says Raky. “World Vision has taught us and helped us, and they have given us back our dignity.”
Project name: Mauritania Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Project
Donor: World Vision USA
Budget: USD $ 1,534,131
Project length: 1 October 2015 – 30 September 2019
Total beneficiaries: 75,600
Goal: Improved access to water and hygiene & behaviour change practices for poor vulnerable communities and children