7-6 Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation, or Why I Talk About Poop All the Time

The idea is that the community shares knowledge and
the facilitator just gives them a place to do that.
The Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) workshop is one of the current big development tools in the Pacific. It follows the SARAR (I can’t remember what that stands for) methodology that basically says active participation will teach better than passive reception and is more empowering. The theory behind PHAST is that people in the developing world have been receiving messages about hygiene and sanitation for the last twenty or so years, so repeating the same information over and over is not going to change people’s behaviors or available facilities. If however, people are given a place to discuss their own issues and challenges, they are a whole lot more likely to have behavior change and can chose to improve facilities in a way that is appropriate to the available resources.

For example, a community without running water wouldn’t benefit from water seal toilets, though they are the most sanitary toilet option. The toilets require a bucket of water to flush and without easy access to water, that bucket just won’t happen allowing the excrement to build up in a much smaller hole than a pit toilet. After that same community gets a good water source, it still might not be the best option because they might not have access to toilet paper. The plumbing is too small to take leaves, the TP alternative of choice around here, and when those leaves go in the toilet it will block up. An outsider coming in, might not be able to assess these issues accurately and therefore recommend a project that is not appropriate to the community. If said outsider came during the rainy season, there may be plentiful water in rain tanks making that person think that water isn’t an issue. So, through this methodology, the community itself chooses what it sees as the best option for the circumstances of that community.

My co-facilitator and I planning our next move
The workshop itself is a series of small activities, each one lasting an hour or two. The activities are done with a set of about 40 pictures. That has been vital to my success. First off, there are three languages spoken in my area, two of which don’t have standardized writing systems. I don’t speak French, so I can’t run it in that, which leaves me without a good written system to convey information. Secondly, the last literacy study in Central Pentecost found that the adult literacy rate is around 7% and is only slightly higher (10%) in the young adults who benefitted from government sponsored education. Finally, we are in what is considered a “rural area,” which is a nice way of saying the Vanuatu sticks. We haven’t had a lot of contact with outsiders and the women especially haven’t traveled. Many of them speak little to no Bislama and only a few words of French. That is continuing to be a struggle in my service.

Room for help from all sizes
Each activity has a “goal,” or reason for doing it. Often those goals include such hippy-inspired ideas as “improving the community’s confidence” and “breaking down barrier around the issue.” It seems to work though, so I can’t knock on the hippies too much. (Jason would like to point out I am one.)

As the facilitator, I spend a lot of time biting my tongue. This process is very much about the community discovering for itself the issues it is facing and what it can do to improve its own situation. This means, I don’t correct misinformation and I don’t tell them what kinds of projects are reasonable. That has been a challenge.

I love the theory here. The practice has been an interesting experience.
Small group work in the workshop

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