Driving through the hustle and bustle of Lusaka, it is really hard to imagine that the vast majority of this country live in rural communities. Bumper-to-bumper traffic, high rises and expensive cars – one can almost see the development of Zambia happening in front of his eyes. And then I drive a couple of hours outside of the city, and come across this…
Dotting the vast greenery of Zambia are thousands of villages where most of this country’s population live. Walk into one, and Lusaka almost seems otherworldly. Life is different here and the pace of development, less palpable. Faced with limited resources and difficulty of access, the government struggles to provide basic amenities to these communities. Lack of access to clean water keeps children away from school and hinders performance, whereas the lack of access to proper sanitation and menstrual hygiene supplies causes girls to drop out of school. Nonetheless, these communities strive and their schools educate the next generation of Zambians.
FHI360 and CARE/Zambia are implementing a 4-year initiative targeting primary schools in the Eastern Province called SPLASH (Schools Promoting Learning Achievement through Sanitation and Hygiene). Working alongside local government ministries, this project aims to bring clean drinking water, child and gender-friendly latrines, hand washing stations and hygiene education to rural schools across four districts of the Eastern Province of Zambia.
As a WASH consultant over the summer, my primary task was to work with the SPLASH staff to develop tools for the operation and maintenance of implemented infrastructure. Sustaining water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) resources at these schools after the life of this project, is a key component of this initiative. My time in Zambia has been split between working out of the SPLASH offices in Lusaka and Chipata, with school visits sprinkled throughout the span of two months. Working with the FHI360/CARE staff and officials from the Ministry of Education has been a unique and enjoyable earning experience.
Effecting monitoring is one of the biggest challenges in the water and sanitation sector, with over 40% of infrastructure failing within five years of implementation. Crucial to infrastructure sustainability is developing a mechanism for school and district level officials to routinely monitor and report on the functionality of water points and latrines constructed during the project. Using a tool called TextIt, I developed a mobile-based survey through which schools can directly relate information about the functionality of WASH infrastructure. This allows for timely, accurate and transparent monitoring of services. Once this data is reported, it is automatically analyzed using a tool called Water Point Mapper which produces a map displaying the various infrastructure across the area of operation, and up-to-date information about each WASH facility.
This map will be accessible to staff at government ministries, project implementing organizations, funding agencies and members of community WASH committees. Engagement of all these stakeholders is vital for the sustainability of infrastructure and services. Working in unison, they will be able to report and address any issues that may arise with the implemented water system, latrines, handwashing stations, menstrual hygiene facilities and drinking water points. These tools will also aid organizations to efficiently allocate resources, recognize trends in performance and service levels and have a visual, easy-to-understand representation of project progress. Moreover, reciprocal monitoring will empower communities to take ownership of their water and sanitation resources, and in turn the health and education outcome of the children.
During my last week at SPLASH, I presented these WASH monitoring tools to representatives from USAID, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Local Government and Housing, FHI360, CARE and other NGOs working in this sector in Zambia. The various entities called for adoption of these monitoring tools and increased cooperation for WASH sustainability. In the coming months, SPLASH will implement these tools in conjunction with the Ministry of Education in the schools in the Eastern Province where SPLASH is currently working.
While not in office or the field, I have had the opportunity to explore the natural beauty of Zambia at its many wildlife reserves. From visiting elephant orphanages, helicopter rides over the Victoria Falls, and a bungee jumping, my time here in Zambia has been exhilarating to say the least. I can confidently say, Zambians are the friendliest people on this planet. Even her animals are friendly…