We walk through a small and hazy alley to get to the kitchen. The lady who has invited us for lunch is frying something. It smells nice. Suddenly a young girl appears from behind a curtain, which acts as the door to the toilet, based in the same room. The odour from inside mixes with the flavours in the kitchen. The little girl, the first daughter in the family, joins her mother to prepare fried banana for us. She does not wash her hands. As Indonesians and guests of the family, we cannot refuse the treat that is presented to us. It tastes good, but I can’t stop thinking about the toilet while I am in the kitchen. This happened in a small village in Lampung Province, a two to three hour ferry ride from Jakarta. 

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During the seventies and eighties, this was one of the provinces that famously supported the relocation of migrants from Java to other less densely populated areas, under the transmigration programme initiated by the government at the time. The idea was to create a more equitable distribution of population, particularly in rural districts, as Java was considered to be the most heavily populated island in Indonesia. Three decades later, the villagers tell me that their neighbourhood has totally changed in the intervening time. Their homes that used to be made of braided bamboo have now been replaced with solid bricks and concrete. Except for the bathrooms and toilets, that is.

Above and below: collecting data about household and public sanitation facilities using Akvo FLOW. 
Bottom: trainee survey enumerators familiarise themselves with the mobile data collection tool. 
Lampung Province, Indonesia. September 2014. Photos by Aulia Rahman.

In late September I trained around 20-30 people to use Akvo FLOW as part of an international programme to improve hygiene behaviour and sustainability in sanitation being carried out by SNV and funded by DFID. They were mostly local public health graduates and supervisors working for the local government or employees of health centre facilities. Data collection is quite straightforward once the survey enumerators are trained, but the programme itself is difficult. It is not easy to make villagers aware of the importance of safe sanitation facilities and hygienic behaviour. It’s hard to change mindsets. The main aim is to try and shift how families invest in sanitation and health facilities at home, and how they can be improved in public buildings (malls, markets, schools).

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The initial phase of the programme is aimed at the collection of baseline data about more than 3,000 households from 66 villages, in three regencies of the Lampung Province. The end goal of the whole programme is to increase the demand for proper toilet and sanitation facilities for households, and to improve water and sanitation facilities for public facilities across the province. Demand will need to be increased by raising public awareness while simultaneously enabling local suppliers to supply facilities and spare parts more easily. The time when big agencies donated new facilities is over, as it proved unsustainable.

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Improved sanitation and hygiene are what we feel society needs, but it is not an easy message to get across. It takes time to get people to understand the importance of good hygiene facilities and how these can improve their lives. But in the end I trust they will play their crucial role in enabling true sustainable development and maintenance.

Aulia Rahman is an Akvo consultant based in Indonesia.