Building a healthier future: championing improved sanitation in Nigeria

Self Help AfricaWash

It’s a relief! Ngoundu and her 8 children, now have a latrine of their own, complete with essential hand-washing facility.

All forms of building, including constructing latrines, are seen as men’s work, in Tiv land, Nigeria. We meet one woman who’s challenged the norm, taking action to improve sanitation and inspiring others to follow her lead.

Ngoundu is a mother to  8 children. She lives and farms in Benue State, in North Central Nigeria. After United Purpose’s RUSHPIN Programme was rolled out in Onmbagyula, her whole community were involved in collective action to put an end to open defecation. Despite this, however, Nogundu found it difficult to acquire a latrine for herself and family. By tradition, building is work done by men, and as a widow, she had no husband to construct a toilet for her.

The fact that her children continued to use the surrounding area, caused her great embarrassment and brought constant conflict with the neighbours. But, the last straw was when her 6 year old was seriously injured on a piece of broken glass, during a night-time visit to the bush area beyond their home. After spending her meagre resources to settle the bill for his medical treatment, she resolved to break with tradition, and build her own latrine. 

She dug the pit herself, used mud and thatch to construct the walls and roof – and then cleared the surrounding area, to ensure no one else would get wounded by dangerous objects on the way to the toilet. She had a real sense of achievement when – at last – the whole family had a decent, private and safe place to answer the call of nature.

Ngoundu no longer has the quarrels she used to have with her neighbours. And she’s inspired other local women to take up latrine construction for themselves. As a result, she’s  been selected as a member of the community’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Committee (WASHCOM) , and  acts a voice for other widows and older women who lack support to build their own latrines. When we met her, she described the journey she’d made,

“Before (the programme), I used to work hard on my farm and do nothing about my sanitation. My compound was always a mess because I thought farming was more important than keeping my house clean. This programme has encouraged me to take better care of my surroundings”. 

Since our meeting, the community, and the entire Gwer-East  Local Government Area, have gained Open Defecation Free status.


RUSHPIN is a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) programme.

This article originally appeared on the United Purpose website.