The mention of Busia conjures up different images.
There is the story of the children who got paralysed after receiving injections at a local dispensary in 2015.
Then there is the one of the area governor gaining the doubious distinction of being the first one of the 47 county bosses to be prosecuted for abuse of office.
There are also the reports of a neglected Busia town that have served to damage the image of the county even more. However, it is not all bad in Busia. On the bright side, the county appears to lead as far as sanitation is concerned. Most of the county’s 800,000 people live in rural areas and have decent toilets, thanks to the Financial Inclusion in Improved Sanitation in Kenya (FINISH-INK) project.
The project is being implemented by the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref) and has seen Busia become the first county to be declared ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF) by the Ministry of Health in 2016.
The county Water, Sanitation and Health coordinator, Edwins Odhiambo, attributed the success of the project to the fact that it was empowering the local economy through creation of jobs.
He said sanitation had opened up opportunities in marketing, brick-making, construction, artisanship, and loaning and saving schemes.
“Marketers have been convincing communities to construct toilets by enumerating their benefits. The marketers are entitled to commissions and are paid according to the number of people who buy into the idea. Amref has also trained artisans who are hired by residents to build toilets,” said Mr Odhiambo.
He added: “There are those who are selling sanitation products, including toilet paper, to villagers who were initially contended using leaves in the bushes, where they relieved themselves. People have opened up shops in villages to stock the essentials, including soap.”
He said improved sanitation was saving residents the costs of treating preventable ailments, including waterborne diseases.
“Crowding in hospitals has gone down with reduced cases of diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, malaria and tuberculosis among other related diseases. People are putting the money they would have used on medication to other uses.”
Mbogo Acrobats, a 17-member group from Marachi North in Butula, has been combining entertainment with brick-making. Amref has trained the team to make interlocking bricks.
“We make up to 1,000 bricks per day depending on orders. One interlocking brick fetches between Sh15 and Sh18,” said the group’s leader, Mark Cubase.
Redempta Auma, a widow from Karungu village in Samia, has a four-door modern toilet block.
“We used to suffer from diarrhoea and cholera due to lack of sanitation facilities. However, the new modern toilets have solved the problem,” said the mother of six.
“We used to help ourselves in the bush after our only toilet collapsed. I later met people who sold to me the idea of modern toilets. My husband was sick at the time but I was determined. I worked on other people’s farms and raised enough money to buy the materials I needed to construct the toilets. They have changed our lives.”
Ms Auma said other than using the toilet, they also boil water before drinking. She has hanged a container of water on a tree for washing hands after using the toilet.
Josephat Ochieng’, from Bukiri village, is also enjoying his new toilet, which he constructed using a loan from Funyula Financial Savings Association.