They came by bicycle, motorcycle and on foot to witness the end of open defaecation in Traditional Authority (T/A) Likoswe’s area in Chiradzulu.
The venue, St. Tereza Primary School, was specifically prepared to befit the special event where Chiradzulu District and partners, World Vision International and Water for People, came to present the Open Defecation Free (ODF) certificate.
The day, February 21, will be etched into the area’s of history as over 110 544 people will access potable water and 66 753 people will have access to standard pit latrines.
The community will be assured of escaping the cholera outbreak which, as of Saturday March 11, had registered 52 964 accumulated cases and claimed 1 630 lives.
But all this success can be attributed to the pioneering work of Group Village Head (GVH) Mataka who has pushed for improved water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) services in the area.
GVH Mataka, real name Dorothy Mzimba, who was crowned in 1990, accepted the challenge of improving food security in seven villages under her jurisdiction through maize farming.
She, however, felt that the gains in food security were not enough in the face of various hygiene shortfalls that bred disease and death.
The situation would get worse in the rainy-season when waterborne diseases would hit at the peak of farming activity, forcing the farmers to abandon their fields to care for their ailing family members.
“Throughout my chieftainship, I have been active promoting sanitation, especially during the rainy season when diarrhoea, cholera and other hygiene-related diseases would hit us,” she said.
Mataka says she was moved by reports that cholera was ravaging some parts of the country even outside the rainy season.
“This was rare as we normally have cholera during the rainy season,” she says.
The traditional leader says the severity of the outbreak became clearer when health surveillance assistant, Beyard Phiri, who works with communities under T/A Likoswe briefed her on the cholera situation in Chiradzulu.
GVH Mataka held meetings with village heads and their subjects where they discussed measures to promote hygiene and sanitation, and to stop the spread of cholera and waterborne-related diseases.
“I called meetings together with the health surveillance assistant to address the people on measures and we enacted bylaws to promote sanitation and hygiene,” she says.
The bylaws raised the hygiene standards in the area. Every household was told to have a pit latrine with a covering on the hole and a tippy-tap.
“I warned them that no household should dare continue with open defecation in my area,” she says.
The traditional leader’s efforts received a boost from the Chiradzulu Wash with financial support from Anonymous Foundation to train community opinion leaders in sanitation.
From the trainings which were also attended by traditional leaders from other parts of the district instilled a deeper understanding of sanitation and hygiene promotion at community level.
“It is from this training I learned that it is not allowed for 15 people at household level to be using one toilet. I went ahead to implement what I learnt with all my zeal,” she says.
“I used to start my campaign as early as 6am to check if the households have a pit latrine with a pit cover and a tippy-tap,” recollects Mataka.
Her efforts saw mushrooming of pit latrines in the households whose occupants sneaked into neighbours pit latrines to relieve themselves.
The traditional leader’s insistence proved that lack of toilets was not due to lack of resources but rather poor prioritisation.
Achievement of the ODF by T/A Likoswe has not come as a surprise to Phiri.
Phiri attributes the achievement to Mataka’s tireless efforts whose benefit to the community is being reflected in the cholera statistics from health facilities in the area.
“Out of 220 cholera cases reported at Nguludi Health Centre, only one person come from one of the seven villages under GVH Mataka and I am told that it is an imported case as the person was staying in Bangwe Township, Blantyre,” says Phiri.
Mataka looks back with pride for ensuring the people of her area step into a cleaner and healthier world.
The attainment has saved the village from appearing in the worrisome sanitation statistics.
Globally, 25 percent of all deaths and 52 percent of total disease burden can be attributed to sanitation-related factors.
This makes the local feat worth celebrating.