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The Toilet Twinning approach to working with communities

Sanitation is serious stuff and, if you’re going to talk with authority on the subject, you need to bandy about a few choice phrases.

How about community-led total sanitation*? It’s a bit of a mouthful but it’s development-speak for the special approach Toilet Twinning and its partners take.

It’s founded on the idea that sanitation projects work best when local people see the need for improved sanitation – and make that change happen themselves.

In many communities where we work, there are cultural and social hurdles to overcome first. That’s why our partners start spend a long time gaining villagers’ trust, before they ever talk about sanitation.

They bring villagers together in workshops and encourage them to join action groups focused on issues that concern the community, such as farming. Slowly, sensitively, our partners encourage men to allow women to have a say in household decisions, often for the first time. Women carry the heavier burden in terms of collecting water and caring for the family, yet have no voice.

Then, our partners help set up small village committees, of both men and women, to look at the link between practices such as open defecation and ill health. For many, this is a revelation: they have never understood why their children fall ill with sickness and diarrhoea in the rainy season. Then, they are keen to have a latrine.

But before latrine-building starts, there’s training on practices such as handwashing. Hygiene education is key to behaviour change in the long term. 

Our partners then involve local people in deciding on the design and materials to be used in latrine building. This means latrines are both appropriate and affordable.

People generally build their own latrine and are proud to have done so. So they are much more likely to continue to use it properly, ensuring the project is sustainable.

We strongly believe that the best way to bring transformation in poor communities is to work with them, rather than doing things for them. It’s all about dignity and self-respect – words that everyone understands.

 * Community-led total sanitation was an approach pioneered in Bangladesh by development consultant Kamal Kar. 

Did You Know...

For every pound invested in water and sanitation, there is a 4.30 return in the form of reduced health care costs for individuals and society around the world. (UN)

Read more statistics
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