Weyonje! A community working hard for good hygiene and sanitation
This year’s country-wide lockdown has shown us just how important our communities are for solving problems collectively. Whether we’re cooking meals for frontline staff, delivering groceries to vulnerable neighbours or finding new ways to school children – without our local networks life’s obstacles would be much harder to overcome.
It’s no different in Uganda, where there are some very big obstacles to everyone living a healthy, happy life. 6 in 10 people in Uganda don’t have access to clean water, forcing them to risk their health by drinking dirty water and stopping them from being able to wash their hands and protect themselves from illnesses like COVID-19.
What’s more, 8 in 10 people don’t have a decent toilet – adding to the difficulty of maintaining good hygiene. Without decent toilets people are forced to relieve themselves out in the open, which is not only undignified and unsafe, but also means waste and germs can pollute the area or nearby water sources.
But thanks to the work of innovative and passionate local groups, some communities are beginning to see change. One such group is Weyonje, which works in Kamwokya, a slum in the capital Kampala. They teach others in the community about the importance of good hygiene.
In 2019 we followed Weyonje, and their leader Chris, to film their work and witness an exciting moment for Kamwokya. Watch our film, supported by the H&M Foundation, to see what the team achieved (play the video full-width for the best experience!)
A man on a mission
Chris has lived in Kamwokya for most of his life – only leaving to study chemical engineering at university. He wanted to return to the place where he grew up to improve the cleanliness of the slum, especially its sanitation standards.
“We have no proper sewers, poor garbage disposal habits, and the whole area keeps flooding,” explained Chris, as he helped to demolish a makeshift latrine surrounded by waste.
He believes in the power of community and education to change this. His group, named Weyonje (which means ‘clean yourself’), is working to improve the cleanliness of the slum by teaching and encouraging others to take responsibility for the toilets, solid waste management and water systems they need and rely on.
Weyonje go house to house talking to people about how to use toilets properly and get rid of the waste safely (only 15% of Kampala’s population is connected to the sewer system, so many must manage toilet waste themselves). They also teach people about the importance of handwashing after using the toilet or before eating.
One part of a bigger chain
Weyonje’s efforts are working! “Many people appreciate our efforts, because they have learnt the value of safe water, sanitation and hygiene good practice,” explains Chris. “The change, however, is gradual; it takes time for change to happen. Many landlords are constructing new toilets that adhere to the recommended standard, and the practice of emptying latrines in drainage channels is reducing.”
But Chris knows Weyonje can’t do it alone. “Our work is important, but we’re a small part of a big system. We have to make sure the government and local authority are held to account,” he explains.
Without investment from government, communities can struggle to keep water and sanitation services running on their own. To make sure access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene is long-lasting, people at all levels need to be invested.
Luckily, Chris has got some important decision-makers working hard to make change happen too.
Mayor Sserunjogi Charles oversees the city authority
Like Chris, he still lives in Kamwokya where he grew up – which means he’s a role model for many in the area when it comes to practising good hygiene.
He’s also prioritised public health in the budget, so there’s more money available for cleaning up the streets, building sewers and toilets and educating students about hygiene in school.
With the support of people like Mayor Charles, Weyonje's work to improve the quality of toilets and water access in Kamwokya, as well as people's hygiene habits, will have a longer-lasting and greater impact.
The impact of COVID-19
We recorded our documentary before the world had heard of COVID-19. The spread of the virus means Weyonje’s work is more important than ever – and they’re playing a vital role in the community to make sure everyone knows the best ways to protect against the illness.
One of the key messages they’re spreading – as many of us are familiar with - is that you must regularly wash your hands with soap and water, which they do by going door to door, as well as through mobile messages.
“In Kamwokya we already have a community WhatsApp group where people share information. This is a good platform that we can use to counter misinformation about COVID-19 that is circulating on social media,” explained Chris.
As many in the community don’t have a water source close to home they create makeshift handwashing stations – filling a plastic bottle with soap and water and tying it to their front door with string, so they can wash their hands before entering their homes.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, I never used to take washing hands with soap seriously. Today, everywhere on TV and radio [there] are messages encouraging us to regularly wash our hands with water and soap.
Across the world there are groups and organisations just like Weyonje, working tirelessly to protect their communities from the spread of illness and convince the public and government alike that clean water and decent toilets must be a priority.
Discover what some of our amazing community heroes, including Chris, are doing to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.
The H&M Foundation
Weyonje’s work is supported by the H&M Foundation as part of WaterAid's Sustainable WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) programme.
In 2017 the H&M Foundation donated £5.4 million to the Sustainable WASH programme, which aims to improve access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in a long-lasting way.
The programme tries to make sure people at all levels, from the government to civil society, to the private sector, have the resources and skills they need to play their part in improving access to WASH.