Improving sanitation and driving social change in Malawi

Meet 46-year-old Luka Piano from Phalombe district in Malawi. Luka was born with a disability and uses a wheelchair for mobility. He is the coordinator of the Association of People with Disabilities in Phalombe.

  Luka Piano sits outside his office

Luka Piano sits outside his office

Luka recently attended a sanitation awareness campaign organised by United Purpose. The day proved to be enlightening - and inspired him to take action on a very important issue.

“At the campaign, I was made aware of the ways that some diseases spread, one of which was poor sanitation in latrines," Luka says. "Back then, I used my hands and feet to crawl in order to use the bathroom, without any safety kits that would help me to avoid getting in contact with the floor in the latrine. The latrine floor would normally be very unhygienic condition, but considering my condition I would use my hands and feet to crawl in to use the latrine anyway. However, most people with similar disabilities here normally preferred to use the bush to relieve themselves in order to avoid getting in contact with the unhygienic latrine floors."

After attending the awareness campaign, Luka worked with his fellow members of the Association of People with Disabilities to write a letter to United Purpose. The letter described the sanitation challenges that people with disabilities faced.

“Shortly after we wrote the letter, United Purpose intervened and held meetings with us, to get an insight of the equipment that we needed in order to address our sanitation needs," Luka says. "After the meeting, United Purpose provided us with hand and knee pads and many other safety kits that would help us to practice sanitation and be safe from infection-related diseases."

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The simple yet effective equipment has helped Luka a lot, and he now feels safe to use latrines as the hand and knee pads stop him from making direct contact with the floor. 

United Purpose is continuing to work with people with disabilities in Phalombe by involving the Association in all phases of its projects and ensuring they are represented and their voices are heard. For instance, our toilet construction work in Phalombe primary schools include disability-friendly rooms that students with disabilities can use safely.

  Luka (left) sits with his colleague, James Mulanje, a board member of the Association of People with Disabilities in Phalombe

Luka (left) sits with his colleague, James Mulanje, a board member of the Association of People with Disabilities in Phalombe

“Unlike other organisations, UP has been directly involving us in planning and implementations of its projects in Phalombe," says Luka. "I have constantly represented the Association of People with Disabilities in Phalombe in meetings and training that UP organises. The construction of a special toilet room that is disability-friendly in primary schools has also been a very rare, and a great development for young people living with disabilities in Phalombe."

 

This project is part of UP’s Australian Government-funded WASH programme, being implemented in southern Malawi’s Phalombe District. It aims to enhance the health and quality of life of 212,000 poor and vulnerable people by influencing and strengthening the capacity of government and other stakeholders to plan, manage and implement effective WASH services. Gender, social inclusiveness and climate change adaptation is central to the project’s delivery.