SELF project gives councils a push-start in Zimbabwe
The article derives from an interview between Nixon Nembaware, The Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Officer for the SELF project and Diana Tsuro, the Social Services Officer for Zvimba Rural District council. The SELF project (Sustainable Services for Everyone beyond the Lifetime of the project at Fair price) is a CS WASH Fund project that aims to enable 10 Local Authorities to provide sustainable safe water supply and sanitation services, and promote good hygiene practices among the citizens in their areas of jurisdiction.
Zvimba Rural District Council, is witnessing a transformation in the department and community. For many years now the local authority has heard nothing but complaints from residents as service provision deteriorated and infrastructure became degraded due to economic decline across Zimbabwe. The community had a general attitude of resentment towards the council and morale and motivation amongst council staff was low.
But since the development of the SELFproject, relationships with the community have begun to change. “We are now seeing the residents as advisors, not enemies” Tsuro explains. “The general attitude in the council has improved and there is regular and constructive dialogue between all stakeholders”.
The SELF project was initiated by Welthungerhilfe Zimbabwe, through Australian Aid funding, to support urban councils across Zimbabwe with training, technical personnel and grants for water and sanitation hardware rehabilitation.
A transformative approach
Tsuro feels that an important part of its success has been the two-pronged transformative approach of SELF. First, council staff and other government stakeholders were trained in improved customer care, service delivery, and gender and social inclusion (GESI). These concepts were cascaded to community level extension workers, businesses and institutions and then community members themselves through health clubs, residents’ associations and community groups.
Next, project staff helped local authorities to identify and prioritise their most urgent needs for WASH infrastructure rehabilitation and improvement. This was followed by the establishment and training of committees to oversee the management of rehabilitated infrastructure including public toilets, water points and reticulation systems.
The main function of the SELF project was to catalyse action by injecting start-up resources and training. “The council now has the capacity to do what they always wanted to do. it’s like a car that needed a push start”, Tsuro jokes.
She identified the main improvements in terms of service delivery as being due to community consultation, which helped to define priorities such as public toilets, solid waste disposal and refuse collection. The development of a WASH strategic plan for the council has provided a road-map which defines the client base and the sources of revenue as well as providing SMART service level bench marks. “We have even developed a draft clients’ charter which has given residents a formalised mechanism for bringing their complaints, queries and suggestions to council” notes Tsuro. She feels that this has nurtured trust between the council and residents. “The relationship is no longer as volatile … but it will take time to get it right”, she says. “It will be even better once we complete the residents’ association’s training”.
Another major improvement is revenue collection which has been helped by the improved service delivery and better relations with the client base as well as the institution of a geographical information system (GIS) which allows households to be registered on a database and infrastructure to be mapped.
One of the most welcomed hardware developments for the community was improved water supply for Murombedzi growth point where thousands of residents had struggled for years with a highly erratic water supply. The council invested US$5,000 to donate a water pump for the national water authority to supply over 2,500 residents on 900 properties. Less obvious benefits came through a gender and social inclusion (GESI) audit which led to some breakthroughs for women, the elderly and people living with disabilities. Now the community has two blocks of universally accessible public toilets while the council offices have a wheelchair ramp. Tsuro remarks: “It’s funny how we were blind to the necessity of such a walkway … we actually had a wheelchair-bound colleague who we had to carry up to the office daily for over 10 years and we never even thought of how a ramp would improve conditions!”
Diana Tsuro feels that the SELF project has in-built sustainability because it supported and augmented the existing core mandates of the council. As part of the partnership with Welthungerhilfe, Zvimba Council has contributed technical staff, supplied fuel for training small urban councils and provided US$38,000 for labour and the purchase of small hardware items. In addition to the US$5,000 pump already mentioned, the council installed a pay toilet at their offices and extended an accessible toilet facility in nearby Raffingora town.
Tsuro notes that the GESI component has led to a strong sense of ownership by the community. A good example of this is in Murombedzi where residents have formed a committee in charge of the management of the public toilet which was rehabilitated by the project. Another example is the way residents near Kaondera Primary School rallied round to dig the trenches for the water supply. In other areas residents are replicating project achievements on their own such as accessible toilets constructed by community members at Matorahembe Primary School and at a local church.
Building on the experiences and lessons learnt from the SELF programme Zvimba Council intends to go from strength to strength planning exchange visits with other local authorities and publicising health and hygiene messages through the media. Tsuro wants to see the national school curriculum including a component on citizens’ rights and responsibilities while schools should become demonstration sites of model WASH facilities.
Read more about the SELF project.