Much effort has been made to improve access to safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation in rural Malawi as part of the Millennium Development Goal 7, Target 3, to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. However, in the rush to meet this goal, many projects have been completed hastily, without the involvement of the community that is required for a sustainable development. As a result, many projects fail within their first year.
To ensure sustainability, we take a different approach to our projects. Our projects are community led. We provide the assistance that the community requests. But we do not give handouts. We train communities on sustainable and affordable technologies, to empower them to provide water and sanitation facilities for themselves.
Before each project, we meet with the communities to discuss their needs and the various solutions. In the meeting we emphasize that the community is the one that is in charge of the project and we are only here to assist them in meeting their goals. We stress the importance of women’s involvement in decision-making, as they are the ones that are generally responsible for water collection and family hygiene.
We then complete the project together by providing training and installation assistance to the community. The community is asked to provide the materials as this creates ownership, but we will assist them if required, such as buying cement. After completing the projects together, the villages can not only maintain them but also can build further facilities for themselves without the reliance of outside assistance.
Hygiene education programs are run in all the villages we work in, as access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities will make little impact on the health of the community if bad hygiene practices are used.