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Friday, 24th July 2020

A Day in the Field: Rural WASH Team

By Kirsty Solomons

Earlier this year, SEED began a partnership with UNICEF Madagascar to promote safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in communities across the whole of the Anosy region, motivating communities to take action for their own WASH needs. To achieve this, the team is raising awareness about important WASH practices such as handwashing, water treatment, menstrual hygiene management and latrine use. Capacity building will complement these activities by giving communities the skills to meet supply chain gaps for hygiene products such as soap.

Like much of the rest of the world, Madagascar declared a health emergency in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. With our Rural WASH team working in over 1,200 villages across three Anosy districts (Fort Dauphin, Amboasary-Atsimo, and Betroka), our work to reinforce good WASH practices has never been more important, but has also not been without its challenges.

We interviewed five of the team members working on this project to find out how it is going out in the field. Julia, Gaston and Fidele are on-the-ground WASH promoters who go into communities to lead activities and build community support for tackling WASH issues. We also spoke to Sylvia, the district coordinator for the Fort Dauphin area, and Tolotra, a data auditor working with our monitoring and evaluation team.

What is a typical day in the field?

Gaston: “As a promoter, I spend time planning activities then meeting with the different groups from the villages in my area. I make courtesy visits to the local authorities on the ground like the mayor and the chiefs. We have been able to overcome most problems despite the difficult circumstances. The activities are going well, and most have been completed on schedule.”

Sylvia: “During a typical day of work on this project, I make sure that everyone does their responsibilities like planning, reporting, budgeting, participation in the meetings, sharing of knowledge, data entry or collecting data. Currently, our promoters can carry out their activities in most sites. So far, they have been able to confront and solve their problems independently which is fantastic. There are some activities that have already been started, like the initial surveys and focus groups, and community triggering.”

What are the successes of this project?

SEED Rural WASH team members at work in Madagascar
Julia teaches household members how to make and use liquid soap

Julia: “This project is important because it creates community cohesion and a change in general health behaviours. I have learned that we must pay attention to the vulnerable people in the community to achieve the goal.”

Gaston: “This project is so important given the existing situation. We are here to remind people that hygiene and sanitation is essential.”

Sylvia: “I have learned a lot while I work on this project. I have learned technical skills on Google Drive and with Open Data Kit software. I have also developed partnerships with local authorities. I find this project important because it affects all communities, they should all know the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene.”

Have you faced any challenges?

Julia: “There were some changes to the schedule because of the coronavirus pandemic. I cannot hold meetings with more than 50 people, so some of my education activities have been put on hold. Fortunately, I am not at high risk because I am based in a rural area away from towns, however I still have to take precautionary measures.”

Tolotra: “The communities in the rural areas are sometimes afraid of me because they think I bring coronavirus from the town into their community. This could become an obstacle to the activities because people have that fear.”

WASH surveys in progress in southeast Madagascar
Fidele conducts a survey with a household in Betroka district

Fidele: “There is insecurity and famine which affects the district of Betroka, and means we cannot work in some areas because they are too dangerous at the moment. Sometimes I had to postpone my travel due to bad flooding on the roads.”

Sylvia: “I can't organise large meetings at the village level and a lot of our education activities are done through smaller meetings. We are thinking of new ways to overcome this. There is also a weak phone network and there’s bad signal at Manantenina where I work.  It’s hard for me to remotely participate in our weekly meeting, so I have to travel to Fort Dauphin (several hours by bus) to attend.”

Moving forward

Despite these difficult conditions, SEED is committed to supporting communities to practice good WASH behaviours that will preserve their health both now and in the future. As Tolotra tells us:

This project is important because when you talk about WASH, you are talking about health and life of communities. This project is a response to those fundamental human rights of access to health and safe drinking water.

SEED commends the rural WASH team for their hard work to protect and build the WASH capacity of Anosy communities during this challenging time. With the pandemic far from over, the team will continue to share hygiene messages and build awareness of COVID-19 prevention measures in Anosy through socially distanced group meetings and media campaigns run through radio transmissions, posters, and social media. SEED has made sure to provide the team with protective equipment such as masks, hand sanitiser and soap, as well as training on preventative measures including social distancing. We are continuing to conduct risk assessments to ensure that our staff and target communities are safe, and are strengthening our partnerships with local authorities by communicating openly about our work and welcoming community input to project plans. Where it is safe and possible to do so, we will continue with planned project activities to support communities and bolster WASH not only during the current health emergency but for the long term as well.