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Published on: 27/07/2023

Authors: Girmachew Addisu and Tsegaye Yeshiwas and Gezahegn Lemecha

The training room was silent, except for the occasional click of a mouse or the tapping of a keyboard. The participants were all focused on their computer screens, learning about how to strengthen water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems in their communities. A person who entered the room for the first time might be astonished by their focus and determination. It seemed that determined WASH professionals were drawn to the online WASH Academy course. This happened during the testing of the WASH Systems Academy's basic course, which has been translated into Amharic for Ethiopia. A few weeks later, the same testing took place for the Afan Oromo translation, and the ambiance was the same. The testing of the Amharic-translated course took place in Bahir Dar and the testing of Afan Oromo-translated course took place in Bishoftu.

Interactive trainings with interesting discussions.   Photo credit: IRC Ethiopia

How the capacity-building journey began

Ethiopia Water Technology Institute (EWTI) and IRCWASH Ethiopia have been collaborating on capacity building of the WASH sector since 2019. The two organisations have been using the WASH Systems Academy courses to build the capacity of WASH professionals on systems strengthening. They have been providing blended trainings on the WASH Systems Strengthening course, which has helped many professionals to gain a good understanding of the topic and receive their certificate.

During the past blended trainings, participants requested that the WASH Systems Strengthening course be translated from English into local languages. In response, IRC WASH Ethiopia, in collaboration with EWTI, began translating the course into Amharic and Afan Oromo languages. The translations are now in their final stages, and the translated courses are currently being tested. We are sharing our experiences with the testing of both languages.


Participants of the test runs were WASH experts from WASH sector bureaus in both regions, including the Bureaus of Water and Energy, Health, Finance, Education, and Plan and Development from all levels i.e., region, zone and district levels. They were also joined by experts from the One WASH National Program Coordination Office regional staff, as well as participants from two regions in IRC's focus Woredas (Negelle Arsi, Shashamane, North Mecha, Farta, Dera Woredas) and selected Zones. In total, 21 participants from Amahra Region and 28 participants from Oromia Region participated in the testing of the blended trainings in local languages. The trainings took place from July 5 -7, 2023, in Bahir Dar for the Amharic version, and July 18-20 in Bishoftu for the Afan Oromo version. The translations of the course were supported by the Hilton Renewal Grant project awarded to IRC WASH Ethiopia and the testing took place with support from Agenda for Change Catalyst funding (A4C).

The testing

During the testing, facilitators of the training supported participants in creating user accounts on the WASH Systems Academy website. Participants then enrolled in the translated course and began taking the course. Once all participants were enrolled in the course, the facilitators and translators of the course provided an introduction on how to navigate and how to start the course. They also encouraged participants to take notes if they encountered any misunderstandings or errors in the translation. Since this was a test training, participants were asked to play both the role of trainee and reviewer of the translation.

In between, the facilitators presented the main points of the sessions and participants reflected on them. This was followed by a general reflection on the course and the translation. During each discussion, participants provided feedback to review different translation errors. Overall, the training was interactive, and participants were highly engaged in the course, which shows the importance of translating the course into local languages.

Reflections from participants

Many of the participants remarked favourably on the training and they said that the approach is excellent, but they also stated that three days are not enough since they were playing the role of trainee and reviewer. Some said that the translation needs additional review, and it should involve additional WASH professionals from government offices. They also suggested organising another testing session after incorporating the feedback.

Some of the participants specific feedback included:

"The course was very interesting, well-designed, and not boring. I was not aware that there are 17 SDG goals, and SDG 6 is interconnected with other SDG goals. This training has given me a chance to understand the WASH elements that we often overlook in our day-to-day work to improve WASH services. I learned about the need for coordination to strengthen the building blocks." - Maru Alem, from Amhara Region, One WASH National Program Coordinator.

‘’I found the course informative and engaging. I learned about the importance of integration in achieving universal access to WASH. The course has the potential to be a valuable resource for training at the grassroots level, but it needs some additional editing and revision. I have a plan to use the knowledge that I gained from the course to provide training to colleagues who were unable to attend’’. - Hussien Aman, from Oromia Region, East Shoa Zone Water and Energy Office.

 ''The training on the WASH systems is so interesting, we were systems blind so far, and the training should be given to the WASH sector leadership, even to the higher officials. I will recommend and support the experts to create a user account and enroll in the translated course.’’ - Abebaw Alemu, A scheme administration team leader from Amhara Region, South Gondar Zone Water and Energy Department.

''I have been working in the water sector for 30 years. This course incorporates the major challenges on the ground and is relevant to the real world. The participatory approach was valuable, and I learned from the experiences of other participants. To be honest, this is the best training that I have taken in my career. I see that there is a bit of a challenge in translating some technical terms, which may result in a loss of context which I believe will be fixed. Overall, translating the course into the local language is a good opportunity, especially for experts working in the sector.'' - Keyreddin Dadigaba, from Oromia Region, Water and Energy Bureau.

''This is my first experience learning from the WASH Systems Academy. It was so interesting, and I learned a lot of new things. As a team, we are planning to share this knowledge with our colleagues and enroll them in the course. We are also planning to avail resources to train the health bureau experts and the leadership.''- Eskedar Aysan, WASH officer from Amhara Region Health Bureau.

''The translation is clear and easy to understand for Afan Oromo speakers. I hope it will be useful for people working in the WASH sector. However, there are some dialectical issues that need to be addressed. We provided our feedback during the discussion.''- Faria Zekaria  from Oromia Region, East Harerge Zone, Gursum Woreda Health Office.

''I learned the basic concepts of WASH from the training. The lessons from the course are important for people like me who come from a different background than WASH. I will use the knowledge I gained from the training as a reference for the communications products that we will produce.'' - Meselech Zelalem, Public Relations and Communication Expert of Amhara Water and Energy Bureau.

''I found the training very interesting. I learned about the current status of WASH in Ethiopia and the ways to make it sustainable. I also understood that WASH is a cross-cutting issue that requires the participation of different sectors beyond the WASH sector.'' - Deressa Degefa, from Oromia Finance Bureau.

''The training provided us with various important resources, which we will continue to use as a reference during our implementation. I will also let my staff members learn from this online course. It is important that the course is translated into Amharic, as it is easier to understand and learn in our local language. However, the videos and podcasts are not translated, which makes them difficult to understand due to pronunciation. We need to listen repeatedly to understand. I suggest to translate the videos and podcasts into Amharic. Overall, the course was engaging, and everyone was so engrossed in the course that they forgot about the health breaks.'' - Madinew Birhan, Amhara region, Farta Woreda Head of Water and Mine Office.

''I had limited knowledge about WASH before taking this course, and I learned a lot from the course. The most important thing I learned was the need to integrate WASH with other sectors, such as health, education, and finance. Previously, I had thought that the water sector was the only responsible sector for WASH. We provided feedback about the translation during the training, and I hope that our comments will be incorporated, and that additional people will provide feedback to make the translation more coherent.'' - Mideksa Degu, from the Oromia Plan Commission.

''The course has a lot of new and broad concepts, our insight was different and our approach towards improving WASH services was very traditional even as WASH professionals, this is another paradigm and so interesting to take it again. This course should be given to the leadership of WASH sector bureaus (heads and deputy heads). Translation should be revisited, as there are a lot of confusing words even for native speakers, to make it simple to understand as much as possible.'' -Gebre Berara, from Amhara region Education Bureau.

''The course is important because it will enable us to create a conducive living environment and a healthy and prosperous community. I suggest that we allocate more time for the course to improve the translation and use clear and concise language that is easy to understand.'' - Jemal Awol, from Oromia Region, West Arsi Zone Water and Energy Department.

''I have been working in the WASH sector for many years, but I did not fully understand the dynamics, complexity, and system interactions. This is my first time taking this training, and I found it very informative. However, I would like to suggest that some of the words used, such as "ዝብርቅርቅ", "ውስብስብ", and "ምስቅልቅል", be reviewed, as they may be difficult for some people to understand. Additionally, the internet connection was an issue during the training, so it would be good to consider this in future trainings.'' - Habtamu Oumer, from Amhara Region Water and Energy Bureau.

In conclusion

Generally, translating courses into local languages is a powerful way to improve the understanding and implementation of WASH systems strengthening. When people can learn about WASH in their own language, they are more likely to understand the concepts and be able to apply them in their own communities. Additionally, using local languages to discuss and learn about WASH can pave the way to make a shift in people's thinking and implementation. According to our observations, when participants were discussing WASH in their own language, they were more comfortable and confident discussing the topic. This led them to a more open and honest dialogue about WASH, which can ultimately lead to better WASH outcomes.


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

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