PDI, in for Sanitation of Rural Masses: A Commentary

Being a literary man (terribly ingenious for that matter), I sometimes like adopting great men’s way of writing, whenever I and the occasion deem fit. Today I open with Marshal McLuhan’s opening style to his The Medium is the Message. By the end of this article you will finally understand that my parody is by no means unintelligible, for style matters too. In a country like ours, with leaders long accustomed to hauling all public things to themselves, whenever they have the chance to, it is not much of a shock to say that, without fear of the powers that be, our survival does not depend much on the state. Suffice it to say that the state protects us, punishes (if so) those who rob us, constructs the roads on which we tread with our rugged sores; but you my readers and I both know that to enjoy all these developments, the individual has to be healthy, well fed and hygienic. What I mean is that development has to start at the individual level. Unfortunately, in a state like ours, only few individuals matter. The roads are constructed for their posh cars, the police institution is there to be their watchman, and schools are there only for their education needs. This last assertion is nowhere more ascertained than in the recent Students Loan Complex.

In this type of state then, development is only initiated if there is a need among the elite and wealthy class. This is the type of state we have helped to create, and nurture. This is the very state that we worship and conflate during campaign rallies. But the big question is, how is it that the lowly individual, so abandoned by its parent the state, survives? Who adopts it? Or does it feed on divine providence? The last question I leave to priests and prophets, since we have plenty of them, I shall only tackle the other two. To answer them, I take you to one of the areas where this abandoned individual lives, in Machinga district, Village Headman Mlupalupa, Sub Traditional Authority (S.T.A) Nsanama. This is one of several villages in Machinga in which a local NGO, Participatory Development Initiative (PDI), is carrying out sanitation and hygiene programmes, aimed at achieving sustainable development, and letting the local, underprivileged people have access to a healthy life through the use of whatever little resources they happen to have.

It is my much-loved wandering that took me to this place. Here, the local NGO through Health Surveillance Assistants (H.S.As) is providing health education on how the villagers can take a good care of their latrines. The NGO, according to the PDI Executive Director, James Longwe, understands that the people of this village, and others like it, are prone to various diseases due to the nature of their latrines and latrine habits. In the past, these people could not even own latrines, not due to negligence, not at all, but rather due to lack of knowledge in sanitation and hygiene. This lack cannot be attributed to unwillingness to go to school, for this is another problem, as far as affordability and accessibility of the same is concerned.

James Longwe: The Executive Director of PDI
James Longwe: The Executive Director of PDI

PDI saw the vulnerability of these people and intervened, but with a healthy strategy. They did not want to bombard the people with scientific education on how Cholera, Diarrhea and other diseases are contracted, but rather, they made it possible for the people to feel ashamed of their defecation habits. To achieve this, the PDI team, together with Health Assistants, embarked on a journey of locating defecation sites in the bush. Flags were planted where people usually defecated, and the defecating subjects could feel ashamed of using that site again.  This compelled the villagers to dig pit latrines, and this is where PDI came in to instruct them on how to take care of the latrines. They made do with any available material, wood lids to cover the toilet holes, plastic bottles to use for hand washing after using the latrines, ashes to stifle the smell and, most interesting is the way the hand washing facility is locally built. With a combination of simple poles and ropes, it is built in such a way that the washing subject should not touch anything throughout his or her washing process. In this way, the fifth is left at the toilet, and the subject goes home very clean, and happy. The poor but happy person.

A Latrine Cover: Now used by most households as instructed by PDI
A Latrine Cover: Now used by most households as instructed by PDI

This interest in the abandoned individual does not stop there for PDI, for it is also in the middle of carrying out safe water projects. It goes without saying that when we are talking about hygiene and sanitation we are talking about cleanliness, and cleanliness entails availability of not just any water, but safe water. This the local NGO does through providing equipment like water pipes, cement, and boreholes and tap materials to Water Users Associations. One of the Associations benefitting from this initiative is the Chagwa Water Users Association in the area of Traditional Authority (T.A) Nkula. It is an old age association, but PDI came in to revive it, with the understanding that safe water is the key to the individual’s health, and development is only possible if the people are healthy and strong. Upon my inquisitive inquiry, it was whispered to me that the NGO is not only working in Machinga, but other districts like Nkhotakota, Mzimba, Chitipa, just to mention a few.

Handwashing facility: A couple displaying how they use it
Hand-washing facility: A couple displaying how they use it

Should we not ask ourselves then, fellow Malawians, how these abandoned individuals could survive if they were left solely in the hands of our corrupt state? And why, we should contemplate, does our country register a large number of NGO’s? Like I have said at the beginning of this article, it is a country with leaders long accustomed to gratifying their own needs, not that of the taxpayers.

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