Mention of County 040 conjures up sorry images of children paralyzed by botched malaria jabs three years ago, an embattled governor with the odd distinction as the first to be prosecuted for abuse of office in the devolution era and a terribly neglected Busia town where nothing discernible seems to work.
But on the flipside, Busia County curiously leads the park of Kenya’s 47 devolved units on matters sanitation for its 800,000 population, majority of them living in the rural areas where decent toilets have stolen the show. They are the rule other than exception.
Busia was the first County declared ‘open defecation free’ (ODF) by the Ministry of Health in 2016, courtesy of a project dubbed Financial Inclusion in Improved sanitation in Kenya (FINISH-INK) implemented by African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF).
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County Water Sanitation and Health (WASH) coordinator Mr Edwins Odhiambo says the success is largely attributable to the economic empowerment and job creation component of the project that has stoked enthusiasm in unemployed folks.
He says sanitation has opened up opportunities in marketing, brick making, construction, artisanship, village loaning schemes, Financial Savings Associations (FSAs) and myriad other income generating activities in the once sleepy villages that would otherwise be lying fallow.
“Sanitation marketers talk community members into constructing toilets after convincing them as to the benefits and are entitled to commissions for home owners they manage to win over. Artisans within the community trained by AMREF for the purpose are in turn approached by home owners who pay them on agreed terms. The activities spur rural economy.” States Mr. Odhiambo.
“Add to that the selling of sanitation products among them toilet papers to village folks who previously were content with using leaves within the bushes and what comes to bear is an obvious economic upturn whereby shops are opening up right in the village to stock the essentials inclusive of soap to keep the toilets clean,” explains Mr Odhiambo.
He says indirect economic injections in the sanitation industry that has taken off in Busia County include directing costs erstwhile incurred treating preventable water borne and fecal related diseases more viably elsewhere.
“Crowding at hospitals has gone down with reduced diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, malaria, tuberculosis and other sanitation related diseases. Money so saved plus energy accruing from good health are going to wealth generating activities,” says Mr Odhiambo.
Youth groups such as 17 member Mbongo acrobats of Marachi North in Butula Sub County combine their entertaining stunts with the making of soil stabilized interlocking bricks, popularly known as makiga after training by AMREF.
“We make up to 1000 bricks per day depending on the order from home owners. An interlocking brick fetches between sh15 and 18, giving us a good profit margin to augment our income,” says group leader Mr. Mark Cubase.
Mother of six Redempta Auma Okuku hails from Karungu Village, Rumbiye Sub location of Samia Sub County is a widowed home owner. She gloats over a four door ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine in a homestead dominated by mud walled houses. She says the benefits of a decent toilet far outweigh those of a better looking house with compromised sanitation.
“We were often down with intestinal problems ranging from frequent diarrhea and cholera to worms and other preventable infections before this toilet became a reality,” says Redempta who buried her husband only months ago.
“We would all dash to be bush, stepping on other people’s faeces after our makeshift toilet collapsed before I bumped on people talking of durable affordable toilets. I bought the idea,” she recounts.
“My husband was sick at the time, but I bit the bullet and worked on other people’s farms for money to buy required materials and pay the artisan. It took some time, but the facility was ready for use by the time my husband passed on during which it came in handy for the mourners. Our lives have tremendously improved since its completion. I cannot remember the actual amount it cost.” She says.
Besides using the toilet, she boils drinking water fetched from a nearby spring. A five litre water container hangs from a nearby tree for handwashing after toilet use.
Redempta’s story is similar to that of Josephat Ochieng’, a father of seven who has put up a two door VIP toilet in Bukiri village, Samia Sub County via a loan facility provided by Funyula Financial Savings Association(FSA) as a member.
Explains Ochieng: “I had been a member for a while when sanitary marketers approached me with the VIP toilet idea. They said I was eligible for a loan to fund the facility and promised to help me rehabilitate my house as well if I sailed through an assessment test”, he narrates.
He says FSA helped him identify an artisan trained by AMREF who advised him on requisite materials “I got quotations for materials that I took to the FSA manager for procurement from hardware dealers in the village.
Funyula FSA manager Mr Kennedy Ogutu says an opening an account costs sh500 followed by sh3,000 in instalments or at once to become a member. “To qualify for a loan, a member has to pay a monthly deposit of sh300,” he says.
“Our members are not on payroll and we assess everything in the household including houses, land and livestock to decide if they qualify for a loan,” says Ogutu.