FOR Verakoukou Village in Sahalu ward West Guadalcanal, 19 November marked an incredible achievement. On World Toilet Day, the community celebrated its No Open Defecation status. Verakoukou is the first village in the ward to achieve this status. It is also a huge step forward in improving the health, resilience, and wellbeing of its people and Solomon Islands as a whole.
Safe and accessible toilets are a critical building block of healthy and resilient communities, which is why World Toilet Day is celebrated across the world on 19 November. The day also raises awareness of the 4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation. Until recently, the people of Verakoukou were counted among that number.
Across the Indo-Pacific, people and organisations are taking action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.
Unfortunately, in Solomon Islands, many people still do not have access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Only 18 percent of the rural population has access to basic sanitation facilities, compared to 76 percent in urban areas. This undermines the achievement of better health outcomes for Solomon Islanders.
Non-Government Organisations like Plan International Solomon Islands and Live and Learn Environmental Education are playing a largely supporting role in improving these sanitation statistics and the lives of Solomon Islanders through the Australian Government funded Water for Women project: New Times, New Targets: supporting Solomon Islands Government WASH transition and resilient WASH for all.
Plan International and Live and Learn Solomon Islands are also supporting the Ministry of Health’s no-subsidy policy through the use of an approach known as ‘Community-Led Total Sanitation’ that empowers communities to realise the importance of toilets and build their own latrines as they progress along the sanitation ladder, including in Verakoukou Village.
Australian High Commissioner Dr. Lachlan Strahan, who traveled to Verakoukou to congratulate the community on World Toilet Day, said the village’s community-based approach had been one of most effective parts of achieving its ODF status.
“Members of the Verakoukou community have built their own toilets for all households, making sure that the basic, daily needs of everyone, including women and girls, are being met. They should be proud of this achievement,” Australian High Commissioner, Dr. Lachlan Strahan said.
“Safe and accessible toilets are essential for healthy and resilient communities. Strong sanitation and hygiene practices are a key part of preventing the spread of disease and viruses, including diarrhoeal diseases and COVID-19.”
“Australia is glad that its partnership with Plan International and Live and Learn has supported the community of Verakoukou in taking charge of its own future. Change works best when it is led by people on the ground, making decisions about their own lives.”
Only a handful of communities throughout Solomon Islands has been declared to have a ‘No open defecation status’, which are mostly in Malaita, Isabel, and Guadalcanal provinces. There is a great opportunity for a scale-up of sanitation activities and room for improved access to sanitation for the Solomon Islands.
The “No Open Defecation” status achieved by the Verakoukou community is a step towards creating healthier and happier villages and should not stop there.
“Go out and tell others around you of the benefits of having proper toilets. It would be good if leaders do the same to see people happy having proper toilets and be part of it. The facilities are simple but great because it makes people happy” said Plan International Solomon Islands Country Manager, Ella Kauhue.
The Guadalcanal Provincial Government is aware of the need of having clean and safe drinking water and sanitation in all the communities but the achievement by Verakoukou was remarkable.
“The provincial government is aware of the need for proper water supply and sanitation in all the communities therefore the partnership between the community and NGOs in building proper sanitation is a welcoming initiative. Verakoukou is a role model community in this ward in its sanitation program and you should take ownership of the project by maintaining the facilities. The “No Open Defecation” status you have is a big achievement for the community, said Richard Reti, Guadalcanal Provincial Member for Vatukulau ward.
Implementing the project in five wards of Guadalcanal is Live & Learn Environmental Education under the New Times, New Targets Project.
Live & Learn Environmental Education representative, Patricia Keniherea said “with Christmas approaching when a lot of our people will be returning to our villages, you won’t be worrying about water and sanitation because you already have them very close to you. Keep on practicing and using them so that you know how to use them properly and in a way which will last you many years”
Verakoukou Community Facilitator, Isaiah Chapa said a lot of health problems associated with poor sanitation are slowly disappearing and women are feeling safe using the facilities.
“We no longer have to walk long distances to the seashore or the bushes around us and women and girls feel safe going to the facilities because they are very close to the community and are clean,” said Chapa.
The sentiment was further echoed by a woman in the village, Modesta Vandoa who said “We have a lot of time in our hands to tender our gardens, involve in income generation activities and the fear in us going long distances relieving ourselves has gone. We feel safe. Flies which are plentiful in this village have started to disappear and the many illnesses affecting our children almost every month are disappearing”.
She said the construction of the 15 toilet facilities took less than a month. “We achieve this by working together in providing materials and money to have all the family units built. Cooperation is key when working on community projects. We have one thing in common and that is to build a toilet facility for each family within a month” said Vandona.