When volunteers in the community of Gbeka first met to tackle the problem of sickness in their community, they might not have predicted that their whole community would be energized in the process. Early on, these volunteers decided to focus in on those most severely affected by poor sanitation and hygiene in their community – children. Considering children’s needs and perspectives, especially in planning a community-wide project, is quite rare in Sierra Leone.
The volunteer leaders worked through OVP’s process and surmised that latrines and handwashing stations would be the best way to address their problem. Children were brought into talk about their experience. Adults learned of the numerous challenges children faced in using typical Sierra Leonean toilets – the door handles and seats are too high, and smaller children could even fall into one of the pits! As a result, volunteers found a new, less frequently used design that was better suited to kids.
When the volunteer leaders spoke with 9-year-old Augustine Samuka, he demonstrated a clear understanding of disease transmission. “This will only help us reduce sickness if people use it properly” and then he explained how. It became clear that kids could even be educating the adults.
So teachers began making plans for students to form advocacy and awareness groups to educate the whole community. When these students were asked to speak at a full community meeting, many parents beamed proudly as their children spoke very capably about what good hygiene and sanitation look like. Adults are indeed learning from their children.
Not only is Gbeka conquering sickness, but together the whole community is experiencing a feeling of empowerment, unity, and pride because of this opportunity to take charge of their own development. We at OVP are proud to be a part of work that has these profound ripple effects!