Rwanda: Musha Residents Lead the Way to Improve Hygiene Along Major Highway

Felician Meda Baaza, a truck driver from Tanzania, is one of the long haul drivers that regularly ply Rusumo-Kigali highway.

And, he's one of the motorists that often make use of a lay-by in Gatika Village, Musha Cell, Musha Sector in Rwamagana District.

He makes a stop at the side of the road to stretch and use a public toilet built by residents in a nearby eucalyptus forest.

The space was conceptualised by the residents themselves before they realised it in 2017.

The idea is the brainchild of residents from Gatika village. They formed a local club named, 'Isoko y' Ubuzima' (Kinyarwanda for 'source of health), which promotes good nutrition among children and hygiene in their community.

"The brains behind this idea did a great thing," he said. "It's been of much help, when we pull over here, we relieve ourselves," he said.

Previously, he said, "we used to do something that was harmful to the environment, which could also cause diseases people," he added, alluding to the fact that the motorists used to defecate in the open.

"When you are driving and want to go for a short-call but there is no place to do that, it is hard to concentrate, which is why this space has come in handy," Baaza, 42, said.

The drivers say that it is awkward to walk into a hotel, restaurant or bar to answer nature's call when you are not a client. "This is why public toilets like this near a lay-by are so important."

We hope other residents elsewhere can borrow a leaf from Musha residents, he added.

To use the public toilet every user pays Rwf100 to help maintain hygiene.

Abdi Mohamed Hassan, a Somali-born Kenyan who was driving a Kenyan truck, hailed the general hygiene situation in Rwanda, as well as the prevailing security.

"In some countries you are forced to pull over to the side of the road and head to a bush or forest only to be robbed of your belongings," he said. "Such small initiatives have a big impact on our work."

"We have a lot to be thankful for when on Rwandan roads, for instance, we don't have to worry about our security, it's safe here," he added.

Rosine Mukamana, 32, a mother of two and leader of the residents' club, said: "We sensitised fellow residents about hygiene and showed them the benefits of having a proper public toilet."

"We already had a cooperative, with each member contributing Rwf500 a week, but we realised that would not be enough to put up a decent facility and decided to contribute for the activity," she said.

She said that they decided that each household would raise Rwf2000 and, together, they were able to collect Rwf3.6 billion over a period of six months. "We added part of our savings and it came to Rwf4 million, which we used to build the facility; it's something that we needed to do for our hygiene and health."

The club consists of 300 households of Gatika Village. Only 50 households are not members.

Besides using part of the fees charged from each user to keep the facility clean and pay a security guard manning the area, she said, they are also able to save from the payments.

"At the moment, we have a balance of Rwf249, 000 on our bank account," she said, adding that their plan is to save up capital to open a restaurant in the area largely to cater for the heavy-truck drivers and other travellers.

Ernestine Mukashyaka, 25, another resident, said: "Previously, the situation was terrible, you'd be greeted by so many flies and a foul smell."

She said that, as a result, their children would be sickly "because of the unhygienic environment and have now realised a difference since we built this public toilet."

The residents have also acquired skills to make soaps, which are used at the facility, she said.

Provincial authorities told this newspaper that there is a plan to construct such public toilets across the region to facilitate travellers.

"Particularly, we want to have such facilities on Kigali-Kagitumba and Kigali-Rusumo highways," he said.

Eastern province shares the border with three of Rwanda's neighbours: Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi.

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