Oxfam: Diary from Angola - Latrine building

Oxfam's water and sanitation interventions rely on the involvement of community members. Training in the maintenance is also given, so that they will not be reliant on external support for upkeep of the latrines
Today, four Oxfam vehicles set out from Malanje, carrying teams of drillers, construction workers, and community mobilisers. Our work will include the drilling of a new borehole to ensure clean water access at Calanda, and the fixing of latrine bases in Xandel. Both of these communities were deserted during the war, and have been repopulated since the ceasefire.

The drive out from Malanje takes almost two hours. From the escarpment, we have a view over miles of countryside that is lush and green. People by the roadside are selling food that they have gathered from the bush - we pass two boys sporting a mushroom that is the size of a dinner plate. They ask 50 kwanzas ($1) for it.

The rains are heavy this year, which is good news for the newly-returned residents of Xandel and Calanda. As we go, we see lavras, fields, planted with maize and cassava.

The heavy rains have more malign effects too - we pass the burnt-out shell of a van that drove over a mine in late September, killing 13 people and injuring 10.

Xandel village

We arrive at Xandel during a downpour, and the residents are wisely sheltering inside their newly-constructed homes. Most of Angolan's four million displaced people will return home to nothing, and the citizens of Xandel are no exception. While they were away, their fields reverted to bush, and their homes disintegrated.

A house using readily available materials like earth and wood can be quickly rebuilt, however, and although they have only been back for a matter of months or weeks, the residents of Xandel now have shelter.

When the rain eases we begin the tour of the latrine sites. Nine families are participating in the latrine programme in this village. They have each dug a pit, on the basis of advice from Oxfam on where this should be sited, and today we will install concrete latrine covers over each of them. The work gets underway, with several of the latrine holes having to be bailed before the lids can be installed. Everyone is soaking.

Previously, Oxfam's water and sanitation interventions did not rely so heavily on community participation, and consequently were much more expensive. Now, the installations are reliant on community action. As the team fixes the lid of the first latrine, Figueiredo, one of Oxfam's community mobilisers, reminds the onlookers that they must now build the casota, or latrine building, an essential part of the structure.

Alongside the creation of wells and latrines, Oxfam also organizes theatre shows, games, and discussions to explore and explain why clean water and good hygiene are so important for healthy living.

'We like the teaching that Oxfam gives us,' some of the women explain, 'Through this, we are learning how to look after ourselves and our children better.' Community members are also trained in the maintenance of the sanitation infrastructure, so that they will not be reliant on external support for all aspects of its upkeep.