How This Man Went From Working in Construction to Fighting Open Defecation Across Nigeria
“It's amazing to hear people repeat the benefits of having improved sanitation and hygiene.”
For the past 15 years, Nanpet Chuktu has been empowering communities in Nigeria to advocate for themselves.
Chutku’s career took an unexpected turn when a job in construction led him to start working with United Purpose, an organization helping people gain more agency over their lives.
Working on job sites in rural areas sparked the “hunger to do something beyond just construction,” Chuktu, 48, told Global Citizen, adding that he likes having the opportunity to improve people’s lives.
In Nigeria, where more than half of people live in poverty, access to clean water and sanitation is one of the biggest challenges across the country. Around 100 million Nigerians have no access to improved sanitation and a large portion of the population practice open defecation –– the practice whereby people go in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces to defecate.
United Purpose is dedicated to ending poverty and inequality around the world through its mission to “move people beyond aid.” United Purpose has worked in Nigeria since 1999 to empower women and marginalized communities to voice their rights and promote good sanitation and hygiene to reduce water-borne diseases. The organization teaches communities the benefits of collective behavior change that promotes the use of handwashing and toilet use.
The sixth episode of ACTIVATE: The Global Citizen Movement, a six-part documentary series developed by National Geographic and Procter & Gamble and co-produced by Global Citizen and RadicalMedia, takes viewers to Nigeria’s Edo State, where Chuktu is working to end open defecation. Chuktu explains the risks of the practice and how insects help spread diseases by traveling back and forth between human waste and food.
Chuktu spoke with Global Citizen about his position at United Purpose, how it feels to go back to communities that have stopped defecating in the open, and more. You can view the sixth episode of ACTIVATE in full here.
Global Citizen: Why is it important to you to help create access to water and sanitation for communities in Nigeria?
Nanpet Chuktu: I'm really, really excited every time I feel I contributed to moving people out of poverty. One key thing that's exciting for me is being able to empower people with information and skills. Just providing them with the supplies is a joy for me. I enjoy [helping] communities to see the link between health and sanitation and its impact on their education and their dignity.
Community leaders work alongside their community members to develop action plans leading to positive change in their respective communities. We support families and community members to have a can-do attitude to specific challenges of ending open defecation in favor of improved health, dignity, and prestige for all.
As a program director, what is your role and what do you do to help empower communities to have access to water and sanitation?
I oversee a team of young people who are engaging with the community and our government partners toward creating a movement for sanitation. They're engaging with communities, getting them to put an end to open defecation and improve latrines.
You said that you have a background in geology and then you worked in construction. What was it like moving to work in water and sanitation?
The difference was [that] I was interacting more with the people. When I was in construction and consulting, we went there to do the job. You get a contract, you're there in the location. You do your business and you leave.
I find myself wanting to empower, engage in a meaningful way that would make a difference in their lives. I see more that I'm able to get people to buy in and own the messages around sanitation and hygiene –– they take it beyond me.
What kind of issues do people run into when they don't have access to water and sanitation?
Some of the locations we go to are remotely removed and are far — hard to reach. We also have the challenge of the more clustered and open areas where houses are built without latrines. People don't really care — they just go to the nearest bush. But it also a challenge because of a poor understanding of the situation.
What's an example of some of the programs that you run to empower these communities?
As program manager, I help build [and] train teams that go out to engage with communities and empower them toward improved sanitation and hygiene.
United Purpose is currently engaging communities using the community-led total sanitation approach. We're engaging communities directly, from one village to the other, and getting them to come to the realization that they can do something.
A team of facilitators meets with communities and community members and engages in open dialogue, where they analyze, in a participatory manner, the impact open defecation has on the people as a community.
Through this process, communities and families are brought to the reality of the harm [and the] diseases and indignity defecating in the open leads to. The process ends with an action plan and resolution to end this practice and seek suitable alternatives.
In each community, a team of volunteers (six men and six women) [called the] WASH committee, who are enthusiasts for improved sanitation and hygiene, ensures that no one is left behind — they support the elderly and vulnerable to own and use toilets.
What has it been like for you to go back to a community where you've successfully run one of these programs and see that people are rebuilding their lives?
It's always a joy to go back. It's amazing to hear people repeat the benefits of just having improved sanitation and hygiene over a period of time. “You remember when you came last year? We were defecating in the open but look now at this clean latrine. I can tell you I've saved money from not going to the hospital and I'm able to pay school fees for my children.” You build a sense of “we're in this together.” For me, it's really rewarding.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ACTIVATE: THE GLOBAL CITIZEN MOVEMENT is a six-part documentary series from National Geographic and Procter & Gamble, co-produced by Global Citizen and RadicalMedia. ACTIVATE raises awareness around extreme poverty, inequality, and sustainability issues to mobilize global citizens to take action and drive meaningful and lasting change. The series will premiere globally in fall 2019 on National Geographic in 172 countries and 43 languages. You can learn more here.