Health and sanitation projects in Zerafshan Valley

A visit to MissionEast in Penjikent

Dushanbe, August 15 2009
By Cornelius Stiefenhofer


The first encounter with Anara Doolotova, the project manager of MissionEast in Penjikent, was quite memorable. The humorous Kirgiz is very energetic, her remarks professional and precise. She studied in the US a few years ago to extend her experience in the health and sanitation sector. She managed to establish the whole MissionEast project from scratch in less than four months; her newly founded team is cooperating perfectly to accomplish around 20 individual projects in the surroundings of Penjikent.

After a very informative and diverting conversation, she was introducing me to her team that I was going to join for a week. Mainly, MissionEast focuses on health and sanitation projects in villages that cooperated successfully with MissionEast earlier. The projects can be classified by energy efficiency, clean water supply and education in hygiene and sanitation issues. The improvement hygiene and sanitary standards helps to reduce child mortality and water caused diseases, professional medical care is not available in rural Tajikistan.

MissionEast considers Training and education in health issues to be the most important part in their work as transferred and accepted knowledge is sustaining and, even more important, generates awareness for hygiene and understanding for the necessity to conduct the technical part of the project. “This is the most important part of our work as people need to understand why we want them to dig trenches by hand and pay for the consumed water”, one of the community mobilizators explained. “Besides, even the cleanest water becomes insanitary if not handled properly.”

digging trenches

The community mobilizators are responsible for establishing first contacts and doing negotiations with the villagers, including discussions with the religious and secular heads of the communities. Fully convinced leaders are essential to conduct the project successfully; the meetings also help to estimate the community’s strength and its readiness for the project.

After the social and technical surveys have finished and a decision is made upon whether supporting a village with clean drinking water is possible or not, community mobilizators are initiate first steps of the actual project. They select hygiene promoters in the villages who coordinate and supervise the work of hygiene consultants. These hygiene consultants conduct the actual training of the villagers, each responsible for a few families. The hygiene consultants work voluntary and are trained in Penjikent by MissionEast.

women takes water for analysis

Currently, MissionEast works with 55 hygiene consultants, who are, as well as the hygiene promoters, women. MissionEast helps them to gain more authority and responsibility in their communities. Nargiza, a community mobilizator I was traveling with, described the tremendous progress of these women, “they’ve gained self-confidence and interact more self-confident with the community”, still a rare sight in rural Tajikistan. After several levels of sanitary training are passed by villagers and the Monitoring and Control Group has verified the transferred knowledge, the construction of a water supply system starts.

MissionEast approaches the management of constructions in a different manner than most other organizations, they do not conduct the constructions themselves - they just monitor the progress and verify the result. This ‘outsourcing’ allows MissionEast to minimize their technical staff, they do not have problems to get the villagers to finish/continue the constructions and they don’t need to acquire construction materials – both very time-consuming tasks.

Currently the technical staff of MissionEast in Penjikent consists only of two engineers; they analyze the initial situation of available clean springs upstream a village and the feasibility of implementing the distribution system. The technical concept is kept as simple as possible to ensure long lasting operation and easy implementation. After the decision for conducting the project in a village is taken, the engineers draw detailed plans and make lists for required materials. The requirements of several villages are merged and published in an open call for tender. Tajik construction companies from Penjikent, Dushanbe and Ayni applied for recent tenders, initially being a little surprised by the strict rules for accepting tenders that Anara Doolotova introduced and followed very rigid.

Open Tender at MissionEast

The local companies deliver materials and are responsible for conducting the constructions, usually with workforce from within the village. If a construction company fails to encourage villagers to work, this company has to cope with it solely. That allows MissionEast to extend their activities on other important issues of their concept of universal health and sanitation improvements: They offer concrete flooring for kitchens of families with children under three. Laboratory workers demonstrate the good quality of spring water and how it deteriorates if it is not stored properly. Rural medical stations get equipped with a basic microscope to evaluate the quality of the water, or to track bacterial contamination respectively. This is essential during winter, when roads to the laboratory in Penjikent are blocked. Off-stream-sites are introduced to reduce the risk of water defilement while watering animals.

Water analysis

For sustaining success in their projects, MissionEast sets up water comities in the villages that will organize maintenance and repairs to keep the distribution network running for at least 20 years.

So far, MissionEast was able to improve health and sanitation standards in more than 5000 households in the Zerafshan Valley, helping 14000 people in Penjikent district and 12000 in Ayni District.

In summary my impression of MissionEast’s efforts in Penjikent is a very positive example of how development assistance may improve people’s harsh living conditions directly and sustainable in a very efficient, transparent way.