Engaging Citizens In The Co-Creation Of Public Services Is A Game-Changer
On a winding track down the village of Namuwondo B in Ituba Parish, Namutumba Subcounty, Namutumba District, one’s eyes are blinded by the sight of a newly constructed latrine in the backyard of Busona Islamic Primary School, the only government primary school in the village. From afar, you can see the rays of the hot afternoon sun bouncing off the corrugated ribs of the iron sheets of the newly constructed latrine. It’s now the new definitive feature that invites you to the school even though the rusty signpost of the school is what ushers you into the school compound. The backyard now forces its sight before one’s eyes without being sorry about it. The red earth around the toilet is evidence of a recently dug out pit. The new orange paint coating on the walls aggressively engages and indulges another sense of the human body as its heavy smell forces its way through one’s nostrils. The blue colour of the four metallic doors adds to the rhythm of colours that make up the new structure whose presence invokes convenience and safety.
The newly constructed four stance latrine at Busona Islamic primary school is a product of citizens’ collective action and participation in identifying issues affecting them. The construction of the restroom at the school came after it had been identified as a priority issue in Namuwondo B village which is among the twelve (12) villages where Participatory Action Research work is being carried out. The work is being facilitated with the support of Namutumba District NGO Forum (NDNGOF) and Twaweza East Africa, together with two process facilitators (Ibinga Jackson and Namukuve Fatina) identified and selected by community members.
It should be noted that before the Participatory Action Research project, efforts by the community to secure a new latrine had failed.
The community’s decision to have the district construct a new latrine followed the collapse of the old facility in 2018, which had since placed the health of the children and the community at risk. This had left a population of 789 pupils (M-331, F-458 as of March 2019) with no sanitary facility. The pupils had since been forced to share a two-stance latrine meant for the teachers. Other pupils (majority basically) had resorted to seeking convenience in the bushes around the school since most didn’t have the confidence to share a restroom with the teachers.
This left the pupils and entire community of Namuwondo B vulnerable to many diseases including diarrhoea, dysentery, and cholera. Sharing the two-stance latrine and using the nearby bushes had the unintended consequence of limiting the privacy and safety of the older girls who had no safe place to change sanitary towels and freshen up for classes. Some pupils had started skipping school days as a result. The community’s efforts to have the issue addressed had not yielded any fruit. Earlier efforts had been made to seek support from the former Namutumba DEO through the chairperson of the School Management Committee.
Still, however, no practical solution had been found. It was not until the Participatory Action Research Project started conducting its activities that a solution to the problem was reached. This was done through the use of process facilitators who started applying the knowledge and skills gained from the ten (10) days training at Basoga Nsadhu Memorial Institute that is to say mobilising community members to write a request letter to the current Namutumba District Education Officer for support to construct another pit latrine at the school and finally it was done.
How does the process work?
During community engagements, process facilitators, also known as change agents, facilitate community meetings using the Triple “A” Approach. This approach empowers communities to make decisions on issues that affect them most in an informed manner. That is, communities are empowered to assess situations, analyse problems and take action.
At the fundamental level, making decisions involves three steps: understanding the real problem and where it is, who is most affected, and how they are affected. Second, understand how serious and complicated the problem is, what is causing the problem and why it continues to exist; and third, ask ourselves what can be done about it; what is needed (resources) to solve the problem; who will do what; and the period within which the problem will be solved. Among the top three pressing issues identified by community members was the lack of a pit latrine at Busona Islamic Primary School. This was so because of the challenges created by the lack of a pit latrine at the school. Community members were at risk of diarrhoea. The situation could also be linked to the school’s poor performance, given pupils’ continued absenteeism. After the identification of the issue, a follow-up committee was constituted. Together with the process, facilitators requested support from the sub-county; a commitment was made to forward the case to the district for further support.
Namutumba District Local Government organised a budget conference on 10 November at Basoga Nsadhu Memorial Institute Hall and this was attended by the two change agents (Ibinga Jackson and Namukuve Fatina). The meeting was also attended by several key stakeholders, including the Chief Administrative Officer, Chairperson LCV, District Education Officer, District Health Officer, Secretary for Health, District Information Officer, and the District Planner. Using evidence gathered from the school Head Teacher, Village Health Teams (VHTs), learners and community members, a presentation was made at the district budget conference by the change agents who highlighted the need to construct a pit latrine at Busona Islamic Primary School. As a result, an agreement was reached, and a commitment was made to build a four-stance pit latrine in FY 2020-2021.
The construction process started on 10 April 2021 and was completed on 13 June 2021. The latrine was constructed under the School Facility Grant (SFG). The community is now eagerly waiting for the commissioning and handing over the toilet to the School Management Committee and Headteacher of the school by Namutumba District Local Government.
In conclusion, the idea of placing citizens at the centre of governance has excellent transformational potential for the way public sector governance works. However, for citizen involvement to be meaningful and productive, the state has to recognise its value and leverage it.
This post is written by Nantabo Sumaya, Ivan Mugonero and David Mugurusi, Program Officer, Voice and Participation Twaweza Uganda.