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close this book Water purification, distribution and sewage disposal for Peace Corps volunteers
close this folder Section 7: Scope of disposal system projects in host communities
View the document Overview:
View the document Public health importance of excreta disposal
View the document How disease is carried from excreta
View the document The characteristics of an adequate system
View the document Possible sanitary measures in rural areas
View the document Soil and ground-water pollution
View the document Location of latrines and other excreta disposal facilities
View the document Sludge accumulation and the life of a pit privy
View the document Community participation
View the document Family participation
View the document Role of health department and other agencies
View the document Public versus private latrines
View the document Human factors
View the document Lesson plans

Family participation

Since one of the ultimate objectives of a sanitation program in a community is to get the family to solve its own excrete disposal problems (within reason, of course), it is important that each family unit participate in some way in its execution. Whatever the nature of the sanitation needs and related health problems, you can gain the interest of people by a sympathetic and practical approach to their problems. People who come to a health center or dispensary (mobile or stationary) seeking treatment of intestinal disorders are usually receptive to suggestions as to how to avoid dysentery and diarrhoea. Full advantage should be taken of such opportunities to help make the people aware of the measures which can be applied at home and in the community to prevent these conditions. Practical demonstrations and discussions of latrine construction, aided by the use of visual media based on local situations-e.g., photographs, slides, posters, film strips, film exhibits, and others-may be particularly helpful.

Once the family is willing to participate in the scheme and to learn a new habit, you must be ready to offer a solution which is acceptable and as simple and economical as possible. When sanitation and personal hygiene become habits, the health program will have made tremendous progress.

The sanitation work cannot be considered completed, however, after the construction of the first privy or latrine: in fact, it has just begun. You must remain continuously in touch with the family to stimulate and educate its members into using and maintaining this facility, which often has been constructed after hard and time-consuming labor. The continued educational process involved requires the co-operation of the whole health staff, in your area. Success has been achieved only when the family has accepted the privy as a part of its way of life, and is willing to maintain it, to rebuild it, and to move it to a new location, as necessity demands, and even to become a disciple in teaching the neighbors.

Mention has been made of simple and economical solutions to the family's excrete disposal problems. Finding reasonable solutions considered to be one of the keys to active family participation. These are not always easy to find. Undoubtedly there are places where nature, aided perhaps by man, makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to devise simple and economical facilities. In these situations, ingenuity and ability are taxed to the limit. You must be resourceful in making use of available materials and in organizing the people of the community for the difficult tasks at hand. In some instances extra technical and financial assistance may be required from the local government health department. The family cannot be expected to perform difficult and complicated construction operations. You should strive to propose and design solutions that are within the means and ability of the people to operate, maintain, and replace. This is true of a simple family privy, a village well, a public water-supply system, or large water and sewage-treatment works.

As to actual modes of obtaining family participation, the best methods are those in which initial work and expenses are shared by the family and the health authorities or other agencies. Family contribution either may be financial or may take the form of labor and materials. Although financial contribution by the villagers, is highly desirable, it will be found advantageous in the early stages of a program to secure the actual participation of the people in the work, which is being executed for their own benefit. People are more likely to put into daily practice those learning experiences in which self-initiative and self-help are considerable, even if the extent of the self-help is limited to the provision of manpower and locally available material.

In an effort to give proper importance to the construction of privies, use has been made in Latin America, with remarkable success, of simple contracts between the health department and the head of the family. The contracts state in simple, direct terms the obligations of each party, so that no misunderstanding can arise. This impresses on the family the importance which both parties attach to the privy as a vital element in household health. The application of this technique depends on a patient and enthusiastic volunteer, for it takes time to talk to each family and explain over and over the need for a sanitary privy and the benefits which can be derived from its daily use.

Another technique used with success in some countries in South-East Asia consists of "selling" the program to respected leaders of the community and helping them, first, to install their latrines. The possession of a sanitary latrine thus becomes associated with a position of prestige in the community.