by Sarah Fry
About the Author: Sarah Fry is a Senior Hygiene and School WASH Advisor with the USAID funded WASHplus Project. She manages the USAID-funded SPLASH program in Zambia and an urban hygiene improvement program in Benin.
Creating communities of practice (COP) within SPLASH (the Schools Promoting Learning Achievement through Hygiene and Sanitation project implemented through WASHplus) has moved from talk to action, as the “Task 2 – Software” Community of Practice held its first meeting in Chadiza District from 26 to 28 August. I arrived in Zambia on Saturday and was cheerfully informed that we would travel to Chadiza on Monday to attend this meeting. If you look on the map of Zambia, Chadiza is in Eastern Province below Chipata, hugging Mozambique. It took a good 12 hours to arrive there, but what a treat to get to know SPLASH’s latest district. Formerly a true outpost even for Zambia, there are signs that Chadiza is growing and developing. New road grading and construction envelopes the town in dust during this dry season, and it was hot. The hotel we stayed at was paint-not-dry new but had almost all the basics.
The community of practice that gathered from all districts included three SPLASH Hygiene Behavior Change Technicians (HBCTs) with a Ministry of Education (MOE) staff member sitting in for Mayombo from Lundazi District, who was out on maternity leave. The HBCTs were joined by the District Resource Center Coordinators (DRCCs), also from MOE and in charge of rolling out teacher in-service training in the districts. DRCCs have become indispensable members of the SPLASH team as SPLASH has shifted nearly all school WASH training, behavior change and mobilization activities through the existing teacher in service system called SPRINT (School Program for In-service for a Term)of the MOE. This ensures an institutional home for integration of WASH themes in teaching and learning.
To start us off, SPLASH Chief of Party Justin Lupele reviewed what exactly a CoP is (coincidental acronyms!). Then the group launched into presentations by district on what has been accomplished in the software programs associated with SPLASH. Highlights (and there were many!) were the extent to which schools have been supported in becoming WASH friendly through the School-Led Total Sanitation process, how thoroughly WASH teaching and training is being rolled out through the SPRINT system, and how far the Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) program has advanced in the districts. For example, MHM has been included in district and provincial MOE strategic plans, and many schools are stocking emergency sanitary pads.
But what really inspired everybody was the Chipata team’s account of the first ever MHM Mini Exhibition organized by “Mai” Mapata as Ms. Margaret Mapata is fondly called, James Nyirenda and Emory University intern Kylie Saunders. The exhibition was held for parents, students and teachers from a number of schools around Chipata town, and offered booths with informational displays on the basics of menstruation and on good nutrition during menstruation, MHM themed games and teaching and learning aids with MHM themes. One of the most popular stations was on reusable pad making, and among the most enthusiastic pad makers were…boys! They were thrilled to be fully included and several said that they were eager to show their sisters how to make pads.
After hearing about the success of this event, the others in the COP decided to hold their own. And this is how the three days went – as districts explained how they approached challenges or tried a new way of doing something, the others took note. There was much hallway chatting in the evening as members of the COP questioned each other about how they managed different aspects of the program.
The next days were devoted to highlighting and analyzing successes and challenges encountered in rolling out the hygiene behavior change program, leading to decisions about actions and activities in the upcoming final SPLASH year. A recurring theme to the challenges was how to move from information to action, knowledge to practice. Another was how to build on what has been created, such as pupil WASH clubs and PTA WASH committees, and supporting these entities to becomes truly functional and autonomous. These two themes generated much honest soul-searching and discussion, and a commitment to try out promising strategies with these ends in mind.
The COP workshop was held at the Chadiza Resource Center, a comfortable room with interesting teaching aids and posters all over, located on the grounds of Chadiza Primary and Secondary schools where SPLASH is intervening. As luck would have it, SPLASH was also holding training for Area Pump Menders on the school grounds, where the school pump was conveniently on its last creaky legs. We watched and applauded as the group of new pump menders gathered round and brought the ailing school pump back to life.
At the end of the three days together, there was no doubt that a true Community of Practice had taken root. Now we will sit back and watch as branches and blossoms sprout, and as the connection continue via social media and other channels. WhatsApp, Facebook anyone?