14/07/2016 07:00 BST | Updated 15/07/2017 06:12 BST

Understanding the Power of Toilets in Rural Angola

I recently returned from a trip to visit rural villages in Angola to look at the impact that Unicef's sanitation partnership with Andrex is having on children and families there. It's incredible to think that seven out of ten people living in rural Angola do not have a clean, safe toilet to use. This has a huge impact on the health of Angola's children and one of the reasons the country has the highest rate of child mortality in the world.

As I began my journey into the heart of Angola, I visited villages that were in different stages of learning about sanitation. Due to a number of reasons, such as the poor economic climate in Angola and the poverty that the country suffers, many people do not have access to basic sanitation. Without a toilet, the reality is that many people still have to go to the toilet out in the open, often in the bush or a lake and near their homes. This risks faeces contaminating their food and drink, causing sickness to children and families.

The first village I visited was called Calipanguela, located over an hour away from the nearest city, Nharea. The village is incredibly rural, filled with mud huts, dirt tracks and livestock. The process of educating the community about the importance of using a toilet, washing their hands and sanitation in general had not reached this village yet but would start with a 'Triggering' meeting.


Triggering meeting with villagers and village elder (copyright Karin Schermbrucker)

The meeting involves gathering all of the villagers together and sharing food and water between them. Then something shocking happens. To exemplify the danger of open defecation, the facilitators place fresh human faeces, found that day in the village, near the food and water they'd been sharing. The flies become instantly attracted and begin moving between the faeces, food and water.

The method is deliberately provocative. People immediately understand the danger of going to the toilet outside and realise they may have been eating food contaminated by their faeces. The village then designs an action plan to tackle why so many people go to the toilet outside and improve the health of the community.


Children learning about the importance of washing hands at the triggering meeting (copyright Karin Schermbrucker)

I went onto the village of Luwawa, this village was triggered a year ago, after being monitored on a monthly basis to ensure the community were using and maintaining their toilets, it was about to be awarded a certificate. Villagers no longer went to the toilet out in the open and it had been declared 'Open Defecation Free'. This is a huge honour in Angola and to mark the occasion, there was singing, dancing and a party to celebrate.


Villagers gather to mark the occasion (copyright Karin Schermbrucker)

Finally, to complete my journey, I visited a village that had been declared 'Open Defecation Free' for a year. Here I met a wonderful family and a mother called Sabina who wanted to share her story. Sabina is 39, married, has four children and lives in a village called Waleka.


Sabina with her children pictured in her home (copyright Karin Schermbrucker)

Sabina tells me about life before her village was triggered and her family built a toilet.

Sabina says: "Before we had a toilet we went outside to the bush to defecate which made me feel uncomfortable. When we went to the toilet outside I was worried about my family getting sick or being bitten by a snake.

"Defecating outside made my children sick, they were always ill. When they were ill they didn't manage to go to school."

Sabina told me that it always smelt before the village was triggered and the toilets were built. Sometimes there would be faeces all around the village and it didn't feel clean.


Sabina working in the village (copyright Karin Schermbrucker)

Now that they have all built toilets and been declared open defecation free she feels happy, she can see that there has been a reduction in illness for all of the villagers.

Sabina said: "Now there is a real change in the village. Now everything is ok."

The Andrex partnership raises funds for Unicef's Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme which empowers communities to build, maintain and take pride in their own hygiene and sanitation. The great work that the partnership has helped to fund was clear to see in all of the villages that we visited, no matter what stage of the journey they were in. 60,000 lives will be impacted this year thanks to the funds raised by Andrex for the Unicef programme.

As I plan my next trip back to the villages, I feel confident that thanks to this partnership, villagers will continue to feel empowered to use their toilets and benefit from the programme.

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