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Village WASH committees reward at both social and personal levels

Published on: 19/03/2013

The BRAC WASH programme has helped establish 80,000 Village WASH Committees, whose members are so engaged they're even going into politics.

The Village Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Committee (VWC) of Kadigor Village in Kachina Union of Bhaluka Upazila (sub-district) is in session when we visit to document its progress and interview a few of its members. BRAC revived existing but non-functioning VWCs from the start of its WASH programme in 2006 to 2011. A committee consists of 11 members: 6 women and 5 men. The committee has meetings every two months to discuss progress and to help solve problems as they may occur.

“Before we started our WASH programme we analysed what local government capacities were available. We helped set up and train 80,000 new Village WASH Committees,” says Mr Milan Kanti Barua, who after 32 years with BRAC is now adviser for Water Sanitation and Hygiene. He is also a member of the National Task Force on Sanitation.

BRAC VWC shows progress

BRAC now has more than 5,600 women and more than 1,900 men in the field who, after two weeks of capacity building training, visit each household in 170 unions (one-third of the country) in a 45-60 day cycle. These field organisers and programme assistants also support the functioning of the 46,000 Village WASH Committees.

Nine out of ten households use hygienic latrine

The Bhaluka VWC first shows us the village map that they use as a baseline. In 2006, one-third of the 237 households used a hygienic latrine. Now, 9 out 10 of the total 248 households are using hygienic latrines. In this Upazila, BRAC has helped support the construction of 3,692 toilets in the first phase of the 2006-2011 programme. One of the targets of the second phase is to cover the 8% of the hardcore poor that are not yet covered. So far the VWC has been able to mobilise funds for 147 toilets for this category: 72 of them were self-financed, 65 came from other sources, seven from BRAC, and three from the local government’s Annual Development funds.

We spoke with Mrs Ismat Ara Khatun, the current secretary of this VWC, and with Mrs Mobasshera Akhter Rumi, who was secretary from 2006 to 2011 and who is now an elected Union representative, and is still advising the Village WASH Committee. Both have received a three-day leadership training provided by BRAC.

How to mobilise and motivate villagers

Ismat has been in the VWC since 2006, representing the adolescent girls group. Asked in what areas the training has increased her personal skills, she mentioned two things:

“I learned how to mobilise people and how to help them improve their practices on water, sanitation and hygiene. I am also happy that I learned to deal with menstrual hygiene problems.”

At the leadership training, Mobasshera also learned how to motivate people. Because she was exposed to others she is now able to interact with many other people. She liked the use of social mapping at the start of the programme and she has gradually practised how to use social maps for the further development of her village. Previously, she did not like the political work her husband was doing. However, because of her work as VWC secretary, she was asked, after a number of years, to stand for local union elections. She first surveyed her popularity among potential voters and found that she had a good reputation, which motivated her to stand. She won a seat in the union elections of July 2011 and took an oath on 3rd August, 2011. She is staying on as an adviser to the VWC, something BRAC supports to create good links between Village WASH Committees and the local government institutions.

In response to my question about how often the VWCs see the local BRAC programme assistant (PA) and field organisers (FO), they say that the PA comes every two weeks and the FO visits them every month.

Role of local health workers

Mrs Hazera, one of the 30,000 village health volunteers who was trained by BRAC and who is responsible for the BRAC programme in the village as one of the members of village WASH committee, is also called to join us. She helps the village people with medicines against diseases such as tuberculosis, anaemia, goitre, dysentery, and diarrhoea. The BRAC Health department also provides monthly refresher trainings.

She also gets a supply of sanitary napkin packets on a monthly basis from the local BRAC office. She gets a percentage on what she sells per month. BRAC charges 42 taka (€0.4) for a packet of 10. The health volunteer sells them to schools for 49 taka. She also gets incentives for her monthly monitoring of 27 households. According to her, the sale price of sanitary napkins and soap is now higher than before the WASH intervention.

My last question to all three was on what they see happening after the BRAC WASH funding and training support stops in 2015. They are confident that by that time they can access funds from other NGOs and ADP grants, as they know how to mobilise local resources. Moreover, village people are changing their habits and they like to be modern by having a clean toilet. Children do not defecate in the open anymore, and people are paying to upgrade their toilets.

Village management of sanitation and hygiene

Recent figures from qualitative monitoring field pilot testing in 2012 show that among 36 VWCs, all of them scored benchmark or above for quality of management. In 72% of the cases, evidence was available of regular meetings (once every two months), keeping minutes, recording resolutions and undertaking action to solve problems. The top 25% could also show evidence of accessing local government funds for sanitation for the hardcore poor.  

Cooperation with Local Government

Evidence-based data on cooperation with Local Government Institutions (LGI) was collected at the union level (12 unions). Here none of the WASH committees scored 0 (no cooperation) or 1 (only attending meetings). Above these levels, the scores were distributed evenly. One-third of the committees cooperated with LGIs to make and implement a joint action plan for the National Sanitation Month (October of each year). The second one-third also co-decided with the LGI in allocating the government subsidy for sanitation to the hardcore poor. In the last one-third, one of the committee members has also been elected as the LGI representative for their Union. So Mrs Mobasshera is not the only one.

Photo: IRC/Ingeborg Krukkert

Dick de Jong, H2O Communications, Andrew Wright and Joep Verhagen, IRC

February 2013

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