Just a few months ago, many villagers in southern, rural Rwanda did not see a need for toilets. In Kinyarwanda—Rwanda’s official language—the word for “toilet” is “ubwiherero,” or “a private place to do things in secret.”
“If you were looking for people who have been using toilets since childhood, you won’t find anybody,” says Bavunirora Gervais, vice president of his village health club. “We believed that to go [in private] meant … anywhere, if nobody saw you. Today, we have been taught by the Gikuriro program that this causes a lot of diseases.”
The Gikuriro program focuses on nutrition, and water, sanitation and health, or WASH. Through the program, Catholic Relief Services, the Netherlands Development Organization and local partner Francois-Xavier Bagnoud are helping communities organize health clubs to teach people about sanitation and hygiene.
The Twite ku Buzima Health Club in the village of Rusebeya already has 75 members. Formed in January 2017, members meet in the fresh air in a small forest near the Burundi border.
Before the program, Rusebeya had 215 households and only 87 toilets. Many were not in good condition. Now, just 5 months later, club members have built 4 toilets and dug 20 toilet pits. Another 15 are awaiting roofs. In total, almost 40 toilets will be completed soon.
Club member Munyakayanza Simiyoni’s family is among those who have received a toilet. “Long live Twite ku Buzima Health Club,” he says, emotionally. “Water is a challenge in our village because we must fetch it from far away, but I have made a tippy-tap and I make sure to maintain it with clean water and soap near the toilet so my family can wash their hands regularly!”
With the club’s assistance, Munyakayanza’s family also has a drying rack, a rope to dry clothes and a kitchen garden to grow vegetables.
There are other health clubs like Twite ku Buzima in the 1,200 villages where the Gikuriro program’s first round is being implemented. Health clubs have been started in every one of these villages. By the end of 2017, the WASH activities will have launched in all the 3,469 villages of the program’s 8 districts in Rwanda.
In addition to its health club work, the Gikuriro program encourages caregivers to wash their hands before preparing food. It is expected that within the year, 30% of program participants will have adopted these healthy habits, growing to 60% by 2020.
The program will also help families store clean drinking and learn to use soap and clean water for hand washing. Community members have noticed that improved hygiene is reducing disease, and that their children do not become sick as often.
Niyonsingiza Elyse has stopped bringing her 1-year-old with her to the field where she works. “I no longer nurse my baby with dirty hands and dirty breasts. I wash first,” she says. “Since I started this, my baby has become healthier.”
The Gikuriro program is a 5-year project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Rwandan prime minister and the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda launched the program at the national level in 2016.