For each of the six weeks of Lent, the Diocese of Parramatta is sharing one of Caritas Australia’s feature stories of lives changed through support and empowerment programs.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT – 15 March 2021
Can you imagine not having a toilet of any kind? For Arsad, an Indonesian farmer, the idea of having a flushing toilet and running water at home was a distant dream.
Without a toilet at home, Arsad and his family had to walk into the forest, even overnight or in the rain. When he realised that open defecation practices were making his community sick, he was keen to instigate change.
With the support of Caritas Australia and its partner, Laz Harfa, Arsad took part in hygiene and sanitation training. He then decided to build a toilet in his house.
Now, Arsad’s teaching others in his neighbourhood about hygiene and sanitation, and helping them build toilets. His family’s healthier, his community cleaner – and he’s being hailed as a neighbourhood hero.
Arsad, 46, lives in the Pandeglang region of Indonesia’s Banten province. Three families live in his household: his parents, his wife Kasniti and his three children, and his 20-year old daughter’s husband and their four-month old son.
The Pandeglang region has limited employment opportunities, and poor roads and infrastructure. Arsad is a rice farmer who also grows vegetables to feed his family and make ends meet.
“Costs for cultivating and transporting rice are high, and the selling price too low,” Arsad says. “It’s hard to find another job to fulfil daily needs. Our roads are broken and it is hard for us to go to health facilities.”
Arsad didn’t have a toilet in his house, and his family had to walk a long distance into the forest to the district’s open defecation area. It was worse at night, when he had to accompany his wife who was afraid of snakes.
“We thought it was normal, even though we have to face our fear every time,” says Kasniti, Arsad’s wife. “When it was raining or we were sick, it became very troublesome. I fought a lot with my husband, who was sleepy, because he did not want to accompany me to the forest.”
Around 17% of Indonesia’s rural population, or 45 million people, practice open defecation – going to the toilet outdoors in fields, forests, and other open spaces, with many unaware that it contributes to significant health problems. Open defecation spreads diseases, like cholera and dysentery, and causes diarrhoea, increasing the risk of malnutrition for children.
Arsad’s family was often sick, with digestive problems and colds. His environment lacked basic hygiene, and open defecation in the community caused many neighbourhood disputes.
When he heard about hygiene and sanitation training run by Caritas Australia through local partner Laz Harfa, he was keen to get involved. The Economic and Community-based Health Development Project encourages community members to save to build their own toilets, and work together to create open defecation-free villages. It also aims to boost incomes through sustainable agriculture and other livelihood activities.
Through the training, Arsad became more willing to talk about open defecation, which he had previously found too embarrassing. He became keen to find solutions, and decided to fund and install a toilet and piped water system in his home himself.
He learnt financial management skills and became the leader of his local Arisan Jamban group. Group members save money together, with one person chosen each month to receive the money for a toilet. The Caritas-supported project motivated group members to pool their own resources, resulting in the installation of around 280 toilets.
“Most people at first did not understand about health. Now, they’re willing to listen and they have an easy way to build toilets,” Arsad says. “We help each other, the ‘togetherness’ is growing. Our solidarity had increased.”
Nearly 12,000 people have benefitted from the program so far.
Today, Arsad and his family are healthy, and they have reduced their medical expenses. He and his wife have a better relationship, as she doesn’t need him to accompany her into the forest. Their community no longer practices open defecation and has become more harmonious.
A special community event, ‘Declaration of Open Defecation-Free’, was held to acknowledge the achievements of Arsad’s neighbourhood. It was attended by local government leaders and dignitaries, who hope their success will be replicated in other neighbourhoods.
Improved hygiene and sanitation practices also helped Arsad’s community during the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed local markets and further reduced the family’s income.
Once again, Caritas Australia worked with Laz Harfa to share life-saving messages about preventing the spread of coronavirus, and distributed soap, masks and hygiene kits. We also set up a public rice barn where people could donate rice to share with other community members.
“Arsad was the initiator, the first one to change his way of thinking,” says Imam Hidayat, Laz Harfa’s Program Manager. “He set a good example and then slowly encouraged his neighbours to change for the better.”
Arsad aspired not to have more, but to ‘Be More’. And in doing so, he inspired his family and community to follow in his footsteps.
“Thank you so much, Caritas Australia,” Arsad says. “I pray for the best for the Australians who have helped this program so there is progress in my community.”
To donate to Project Compassion, you can donate through Parish boxes and envelopes, by visiting www.caritas.org.au/projectcompassion or calling 1800 024 413.
With thanks to Caritas Australia.