Jennifer Ehidiamen |
KANO, Nigeria – When Abdulahi Yinusa, 25, is not farming, he spends time riding his motorcycle around Yammawar Kafawa community in Dambatta Local Government Area of Kano state. He transports villagers for a small fee, which supplements the income he makes from selling his farm produce.
Yinusa also spends his free time volunteering as a member of the community vanguards for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committees (WASHCOM), a local group that supports communities to effectively manage their WASH affairs.
The WASHCOM in Yammawar Kafawa community also brings various communities together to form associations at ward and Local Government Area level. Along with some other members of his community, including children, Yinusa was trained by the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) and UNICEF, to convey messages about the importance of safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practices in Yammawar Kafawa.
“We get information from the training on what to tell households especially housewives on the importance of good hygiene practices,” said Yinusa.
With an estimated population of 199 million, according to recent data by UNFPA, more than half of Nigeria’s population is under 30 years of age. It is no surprise that in Yammawar Kafawa community young people and children are active members of WASHCOM.
“WASHCOM plays significant role in influencing the community to end open defecation and adopt safe hygiene behaviors not only among all households but also in neighboring communities,” said Bioye Ogunjobi, WASH specialist.
“By so doing they become change agents and create a local movement raising awareness about the negative impact of open defecation in communities,” he said.
Nigeria ranks second among countries with the highest number of people practicing open defecation. With an ambitious goal to get the 47 million people who defecate in the open to use the toilet, the Nigeria government in November 2018 declared a state of emergency in the WASH sector, launched a national campaign tagged, “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet, and reaffirmed its commitment to end open defecation in the country by 2025.
Although only 13 Local Government Areas have been certified open defecation free in Nigeria, Yammawar Kafawa stands among some 70,000 communities spread across the country, that have been able to achieve and sustain an open defecation free status.
Young people like Yinusa are playing a critical role in helping their communities achieve the feat through their membership of WASHCOM.
Abdulahi Yinusa and Shafiyu Abdullahi are members of the WASH vanguards championing the need to end open defecation in Nigeria
The Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the human right to express their opinion and to have that opinion listened to and taken into consideration when decisions are being made that affect them or other children.
Young people in Yammawar Kafawa having keyed into the relevance of this article are actively protecting the wellbeing of their community without dismissal on the grounds of age. And they are being given the information they need to make good decisions, which has helped the community attain and maintain an open defecation free status.
As community vanguards, youths are also engaged to ensure that the action plans to practice safe WASH and end open defecation created during community dialogues are implemented. In addition, they serve as monitoring agents, supporting RUWASSA in ensuring that households do not fall back to defecating in the open once the ODF status is attained.
As change agents, they also consciously practice what they preach, by not defecating in the open.
“Having been informed of the importance of not practicing open defecation, if we are pressed, we take permission from the nearest neighbor to use their toilet,” said 25 -year- old Shafiyu Abdullahi, a construction worker.
Yinusa and Abdullahi, accompanied by other youth vanguards work individually and sometimes as a team.
In addition to sharing the messages of “use the toilet and wash your hands properly” from house to house through interpersonal communication, the youth vanguards also offer to help build toilets in homes headed by old people and widows. This way, the community is reaping the benefit of sustaining an open defecation free status.
“Since the beginning of this initiative, there have been no cases of diarrhea,” said Abdullahi. Considering more than 100,000 children under the age of five die yearly from WASH-related illness, the progress in Yammawar Kafawa could be an inspiration to other communities.
“Communities should form youth groups as a pressure group and get [the needed] support for their communities to end open defecation,” said Yinusa, while strongly advocating for more youth involvement in Nigeria’s drive to end open defecation.
The youth engagement is beyond handouts and tokenism. “Policymakers cannot enforce laws in communities without the support of youths of the community,” said Rabiu Musa, UNICEF communications specialist.
“If they support a social movement, nothing can stop them,” he added.
As Nigeria embarks on its journey to end open defecation by 2025, UNICEF will keep involving young people as stakeholders by continuously applying a social reward mechanism.
This includes publicly recognising youths who actively involved in the fight against open defecation as change agents.
“We’ll encourage the involvement of more youths in WASHCOMs, support the development of economic value chain for sanitation where youths can take advantage and create an opportunity for regular open engagement of youths in social dialogue on issues around safe sanitation,” said Zaid Jurji, Chief of WASH.