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Over the years, we have learned many important lessons about how to effectively and sustainably bring water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to a community. The key? Raising up local leaders and mobilizing the community to take total ownership of the project.

In the volcanic region of northern Rwanda, there was not a water source nearby, so each day community members walked six hours to reach the nearest lake. But through a mobilization program, women in the community started building water tanks. We partnered with them to start a rain tank project to support and extend the work they started. Within three years, the project had completely ended the water crisis in the area!

With water available, the community turned its focus to improved latrines for healthy sanitation. The rocky soil in the area made traditional pit latrines impossible to construct. So we met with the local water committee to present various solutions. Together, we opted for ecological latrines. These latrines not only improve health through safe sanitation, but also provide compost to allow community members to farm, which the local soil typically makes very difficult.

As the sanitation project advanced, the community joined in to provide local material, labor, infrastructure maintenance, and peer education. Because the community members who would be using the latrines had been trained and involved in the project design, the new techniques were fully adopted. Community members are continuing latrine construction to this day. This is something worth celebrating! 

Erin Todd