“We thought that witchcraft was the cause of our illnesses”
Kabasanza is a village in North Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), located in Rwanguba’s health area in the territory of Rutshuru. Leopold Sematemane, village resident, saw his village spring rehabilitated by the SWIFT teams.
« My name is Leopold Sematemane, I am 85 years old and I have lived in Kabasanza for 70 years. I have been a widower for 11 years and I have 10 children, 6 girls and 4 boys. I live with my 7 grand-children. I am a farmer but also a traditional healer, the most famous in this village.
Kabasanza only has one spring, that of Bunywankoko. The Belgian set up in the late 1950s. But it began to produce dirty water, changed color and started to smell, particularly during the rainy season. We knew that, with time, the water had dropped in quality. What’s more, there was no drinking trough for animals, everyone was getting water from the same spot.
Physically strong people were getting their drinking water from other villages where the water still had a clean color and taste. But in Kabasanza, those who could not go that far, like me, continued to use our contaminated source. »
How did things change?
« In 2017 we received a visit from Tearfund teams. They came to the village as part of the SWIFT programme for sanitation, water and hygiene. Since then, we have had visits from health promoters. As they were going from door-to-door awareness, my turn came, they came to my house, they taught me a lot of things, including hand washing techniques, the importance of having a clean latrine and the consequences of non-compliance with hygiene rules. »
What has changed?
« People used to get sick in this village, because of the lack of information on the practice of consuming unclean water. We thought that witchcraft was the cause of our illnesses, and this created a lot of conflicts within our community. But now that the spring has been rehabilitated and we use clean water, the number of diseases has significantly decreased in the village and the people are much healthier.
I try to comply with the rules of hygiene in my home. When the Tearfund teams told me that we had to wash our hands with running water, it attracted my attention. Before, I used to washed my hands in a small basin, then each member of my family took their turn according to their age without changing the water. I was convinced to apply all that I was taught by the Tearfund health promoters. Compared with what we used to do at home before to wash our hands, the hygiene conditions are much better now. »
What were the challenges faced?
« At my level, I did not understand what the impact of these awareness-raising campaigns were. I thought that it was important for us to bring the normal colour and smell of our water back, but, as the health promoters visited us, I noticed changes in the whole village, with the construction of new latrines but also the rehabilitation of old ones. »
What makes this change sustainable?
« Before, there wouldn’t be a month without one of my grandchildren getting sick, I noticed gradually that there was no more illness in my home.
The community now understands the origin of the diseases, which used to cause tensions due to suspicions of witchcraft , we now live in peace. We encourage SWIFT to expand its activities to other villages to reduce the cases of diseases and to restore intercommunity cooperation. If they are better informed, the villagers will have lasting peace and the elderly will be protected and will no longer be seen as witches.»
Since 2014, the Sustainable WASH In Fragile Contexts (SWIFT) Consortium has been working to provide access to water and sanitation and to encourage the adoption of basic hygiene practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in Kenya.
Various partners implement SWIFT’s actions in both target countries, in collaboration with governments as well as water providers, including utilities. The consortium is led by Oxfam, and includes Tearfund and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) as global members.
The SWIFT programme is funded by UK aid from the UK government under a Payment by Results (PbR) contract.