There was a big rush at Eke-Ukwu market, Owerri, in Imo state, the South-Eastern region of Nigeria, as people rushed to open their shops. It was 1st of December, and even though Christmas was twenty-four days away, early buyers were excitedly moving around the shops in the market in search of essential commodities to make the yuletide season a pleasant and memorable one. As the buyers window-shopped, seeing new items on display and taking in the colourful displays, there was no guarantee that they will not be back in a few days to purchase some more.
At Eke-Ukwu market, Mrs. Uzo, a vibrant and lively woman, owned a children clothing shop. ‘Good morning, my neighbours’, she said, as she opened her shop. ‘Good morning, Mama Ndidi’, other shop owners responded. ‘I hope we make a lot of sales today’, she continued, as she fumbled with the key to open the door to her shop. ‘Amen’, some shop owners echoed, as everyone concentrated on bringing out their wares.
Mrs. Uzo’s daughter, Ndidi had accompanied her mother to the shop. She had just completed her first term SS2 exam, and rather than stay at home, she decided to follow her mother to the shop. As Ndidi and her mother opened the shop, Ndidi asked her mother, ‘Mum, why is the market environment so dirty? There are litters of dirt everywhere’. ‘This is a market, what do you expect’. Her mother replied.
Ndidi, walked back outside and looked round, everywhere was filthy and it worried her that her mother did not care about how the entrance to her own shop looked, not to talk about the market in general. Ndidi, went back into the shop, again baffled by the poor sanitation at the marketplace. ‘Mum, how are you comfortable, selling your wares around here? You make us clean the house and the compound every day, you even tell my siblings and I that when our environment is clean, it shows that we are also healthy. How come what you tell us at home, isn’t what you do when you go to the market, which is where you spend most of your day?’ Ndidi asked her mother, obviously not impressed with her mother at all. ‘Ndidi, this is a marketplace, and our house is our house. We live in our house as a family, but this place is for everybody. It is a public place’.
Really? Ndidi could not believe what her mother was saying. ‘Yes, the market place, is a public place and it belongs to everyone’, Mrs. Uzo said to her daughter. ‘Besides, why do you care? We have so much work to do, remember, it’s Christmas season, we will soon have customers come in to buy items. Remember, you are here to assist me with customers, not to access what environment is dirty, and which is clean’. Ndidi couldn’t believe this was her mother talking. ‘Mama Chinyere is out there sweeping the front of her shop. Don’t you think customers will be attracted to the cleanliness of your shop, which could be a motivation for them to patronize your business’? Ndidi pushed further, hoping her mother will be reasonable. ‘I have loyal customers, who will always patronize me’, Mrs. Uzo replied her daughter, looking adamant.
Ndidi’s school had been engaged in community service some months ago. This was a pattern that was adapted by the school authority some years back, to engage students in community service. An official from the Ministry of Environment in company of a Sanitary Inspector is usually invited to the school, to create awareness on good sanitation.
After creating awareness, the students will then be required to clean the school environment, and the environs around the school. ‘When you adequately dispose of waste, you practice good environmental sanitation’, the sanitary inspector would say. One day, during one of the visits, the sanitary inspector decided to go with the students to an area, about 7 minutes’ walk from the school to clean, as part of environmental sanitation.
The students could perceive the stench of human waste as they were cleaning. ‘Why would anyone defecate openly’, Ndidi angrily asked her friend, but not really expecting an answer. ‘What is open defecation’, Rhoda, her friend asked her. You mean you don’t know? Ndidi asked her. ‘No, I don’t, but if you care to tell me, I will understand your sudden outburst’ she responded. ‘That is the result of open defecation’, Ndidi said, pointing at the human waste. ‘Oh, now I understand’, Rhoda said. The sanitary inspector who was inspecting the work being done by other students, and also witnessed Ndidi’s outburst from a distance, moved towards them. She told them some people do not understand the health implications related to open defecation.
‘There are two categories of people who defecate openly’, she said. ‘The first category are the people who defecate openly, not because they want to, but because they do not have the structures required, like a water cistern toilet or latrine at home, to defecate when the need arise’. At this time, all the students had gathered round the sanitary inspector to listen to what she was saying. ‘The second category of people of people who defecate openly, are those who do it out of habit. These categories of people prefer open defecation, even if they are provided with a toilet or a latrine’, she concluded. ‘Are you saying there are people who would still prefer open defection even when a toilet is at their disposal?’ Rhoda asked, shocked. ‘Definitely’, the sanitary inspector replied. ‘An example are some women who would rather opt for open defecation, than share the same toilet with a male’ she added.
By now, the sanitary inspector had the attention of all the children, she continued ‘whether a person openly defecates because he or she does not have a structure to use, or defecates due to habit, one thing we have to know is that the practice of open defecation pollutes the environment and could cause health issues. If you know anyone who openly defecates or you see anyone trying to openly defecate, tell them to stop, it could cause health issues to the general public’. ‘Yes, ma’am’, the students echoed.
‘Is there a solution to open defecation?’ Ndidi asked the sanitary inspector. ‘Yes, the best solution is to build toilets and latrines’ she responded. ‘What about those who have toilets or latrines in their houses, but still prefer open defecation? Ndidi continued. ‘For those type of people, we need to educate them on the health hazards of open defecation’ the sanitary inspector responded.
It’s been a week, since Ndidi started following her mother to the market. ‘I can never get used to seeing refuse dumped in an unhygienic manner in this market, I have to talk to Mama Chichi, the woman whose shop is next to my mother’s. I see the way she disposes of waste; I am really impressed about it. I just wonder why my mother and other shop owners will not emulate such a habit’, Ndidi thought to herself as she walked into her mother’s shop. Mrs Uzo’s salesgirl had already arranged the wares to start the day’s business.
‘Good morning Ma’, Ndidi greeted the woman in the next shop. ‘Good morning Ndidi, where is your mother’? She asked. ‘She will be here much later’, Ndidi replied. ‘Mama Chichi, how do you keep your environment so clean, without litter even though the general market environment is so dirty’? Ndidi asked. This was a good time she had to ask the question she had been meaning to ask all through the week. ‘I understand the health problems that could arise if wastes are not disposed of properly’, Mama Chichi said, in response to Ndidi’s question. ‘You sound like the sanitary inspector who comes to my school to create awareness on environmental sanitation’, Ndidi said, impressed at what Mama Chichi just said. Mama Chichi continued talking, ‘the wastes which could litter the environment if not disposed of properly. The reason there are garbage littered all around is because most of the people in the market are not aware of the health problems associated with non-disposal of waste’.
‘How come you know so much about environmental sanitation’? Ndidi asked Mama Chichi. Mama Chichi laughed, then she told Ndidi that Chichi, her first child is studying Environmental Sanitation in the university. ‘Haa! No wonder you know so much about environmental sanitation’, Ndidi said. ‘Can I meet her someday’, Ndidi asked, looking excited. ‘I will introduce her to you, the next time she comes to the market’, Mama Chichi assured the girl.
‘Are there no waste management officials who come to the market? I mean companies or individuals who are responsible for the management of wastes’, Ndidi explained. ‘I know who waste management officials are ‘, Mama Chichi replied, laughing. “My daughter’, she said ‘most wastes that you see around, are wastes in the environment which are not disposed properly, which is why the environment is not clean. We are meant to pay a little token every month, for our waste to be disposed by the government, but most of these market people default on payment, including your mother, I’m sorry to say’, Mama Chichi said. ‘If people pay the token, it means the dirt thrown into the trash bin, and the ones people gather as garbage, will be picked by waste management officials’. ‘Now I understand’, Ndidi nodded.
Ndidi remembered a small community, where they had gone to do some environmental sanitation, not far from the school. The sanitary inspector had told them that, that day’s outing would be done differently. They would spend 1 hour and 30 minutes on the field, as they called it. ‘One hour will be dedicated to sweeping the environment, and the remaining 30 minutes will be used to create awareness about environmental sanitation to the people in the community.
It was a small community of people who obviously were not practicing environmental sanitation. The stench that was perceived when they got to the area was of trash piles heaped around the area. ‘These wastes should be removed from public areas’, Ndidi whispered to her friend, ‘I agree with you’, her friend Rhoda whispered back. The students noticed some gutters in the community, which were blocked with stagnant water and garbage. The drainage which had been constructed for the community to aid free flow of waste water had been blocked and converted to refuse dumps, and consequently, have become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other harmful infectious agents. There was also the bad smell that oozed out of the gutter. The people in the community had been informed beforehand that some students who would be coming to their community to assist with environmental sanitation. Most of the community people where uneasy having the students come to teach them how clean their environment, so they decided to do some minor cleaning of their entrances before the students arrived.
Once the students arrived, they started work, offering to at least sweep some entrances which were littered with dirt. Some of the people looked on in admiration, as they watched the students in their neat uniforms, clean their environment. Just as the students were about to round up the cleaning, the sanitary inspector, with the assistance of the community leader gathered the people in an open space to talk to them about environmental sanitation.
‘Good day to you all’, the sanitary inspector started, ‘a round of applause for the students who came out here to help to sanitize our environment. By cleaning the environment, the students have helped to reduce infectious diseases and the spread of other disease causing agents’, the sanitary inspector revealed. ‘I have some of my students, who may want to add to what I have just said. Who would like to go first’, the inspector asked’? ‘I will’, Ndidi raised her hand. As Ndidi stepped forward, she wondered why she chose to speak. I shouldn’t have been that fast in volunteering to speak to the people, she thought. ‘Oh well, I will talk about my passion for clean environment’, she murmured to herself.
‘For me, a clean environment, is an environment that is that practices proper environmental sanitation’, Ndidi began. ‘An environment that has clean air without offensive odours, and ensures the proper disposal of wastes. These wastes could be human wastes, sewage, and much more. When you decide to dispose of waste properly, rather than choose to litter the environment, it does better for you as an individual and to the society at large.
They are companies or individuals who are responsible for the management of wastes in our environment. They use their trucks to collect wastes which could litter the environment if not disposed of properly. Apart from the fact that the environment is kept clean, it is another way for the government to generate revenue, because we all pay a certain amount of money for our waste to be disposed of by the government or its agents. The dirt we throw in the waste bin, and the ones other people gather together, is what these waste management officers drive round to collect. They then take these wastes to dumpsites, a place far from where people live, specially meant for waste dumping’.
The students and the sanitary inspector watched in awe as Ndidi captivated the community people with her knowledge of environmental sanitation. ‘This is passion, from a girl who is interested in making her environment look better’, the inspector said to no one in particular.
‘The moment you decide to dispose of garbage that you do not need anymore, and you dispose it of properly, that is one step which you have taken, towards creating a healthy living environment for you and your neighbours. It is one step towards being responsible, not just to yourself but to those around you’ Ndidi continued. As the people cheered while she spoke, Ndidi felt alive. ‘I am going to fulfil my purpose through this path’, she thought, not really understanding the path, or maybe not yet. ‘If you choose to ignore environmental sanitation, then know that diseases and sicknesses are not far away. An unhealthy environment is caused by poor sanitation, and poor sanitation exposes us to diseases like diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and other medical conditions that require a great deal of money to treat in hospitals.
‘Therefore, I urge you today, to choose which side you want to be on, the healthy side, which is environmental sanitation, or the unhealthy side, which is poor sanitation. I urge you today, to choose environmental sanitation’. As Ndidi stepped aside, there was a loud applause from the audience. ‘That was a powerful speech’, Rhoda, Ndidi’s friend said to her. ‘That was me creating awareness on environmental sanitation’, Ndidi said as she smiled at her friend.
The next week, Ndidi received a surprise visitor at the market. Chichi, Mama Chichi’s daughter studying Environmental Sanitation, had come home for weekend, and because she had heard so much about Ndidi from her mother, especially her intelligence and passion for clean environment, Chichi decided to visit her at the market. They hugged each other, as if they had known themselves for a long time. ‘There was so much to talk about’, Ndidi told Chichi. ‘I know, especially that, which we have in common’, Chichi responded. They talked for long hours, about healthy living through environmental sanitation and how poor sanitation could affect the society. They talked about how people defecate openly and the effects of defecating openly, and they also discussed waste management.
‘I want to return to school, knowing that my mother’s health and those of her customers’ are not at risk’, Ndidi told chichi, referring to the poor sanitary conditions in the market. ‘What do you think should be done to make the market clean through proper environmental sanitation?’ Ndidi asked her new friend, whom she was almost looking up to as a mentor. ‘I would advise that you go to the market officials. I know they have an office inside the market. It’s better to go with my mother, because she has a shop within the market and she is known by most of them. When you get there, create awareness about environmental sanitation, because it could be that they do not have a proper orientation about environmental sanitation and the health hazards caused by poor sanitation’.
‘The market officials, are the ones who can lay down rules in the market and enforce the environmental sanitation. Be ready to proffer solutions, in case they ask you if you have any ideas to help them move forward on having a clean environment’. Ndidi, smiled. ‘That sounds like a very good idea’, she said.
The following morning, Ndidi and Mama Chichi, who had been briefed by her daughter Chichi on she and Ndidi going to see the market officials on how to create a healthier market environment for customers and market sellers through environmental sanitation, walked into the market management office located within the market.
‘Good afternoon Mama Chichi’, the man behind the desk greeted. ‘Haa! Oga, are you the one on duty today’? Mama Chichi asked the man. ‘Yes’, the man, Mr. Andrew, smiled at her. Mr Andrew, is known to be a jovial man who never takes anything to heart. The market people liked him a lot because he was never partial in his judgement whenever he had to settle disputes between two market people. ‘This is the right person to talk to, he would listen to us’, Mama Chichi whispered to Ndidi, as Mr Andrew excused himself to answer a telephone call.
‘What can I do for you madam’, he asked Mama Chichi, as he sat back on his seat. ‘This is Ndidi, Mrs. Uzo’s daughter, the woman who has a shop beside my own’, Mama Chichi said, introducing Ndidi to Mr Andrew. ‘How are you Ndidi?’, he asked her. ‘I am fine, Sir’ she responded. ‘We came to talk to you about the poor sanitary conditions in the market. I followed my mother to her shop, here in the market, after I finished my exams, because I needed to assist her. But when I got here, I was baffled at how people could sell items in an environment that is not clean. There are litters of cartons, nylons and other wastes littered all over the market, and only very few people in the market clean the area around their shops, of which Mama Chichi is one of them’, Ndidi explained to Mr. Andrew. Ndidi, still speaking said, ‘the people in Eke-Ukwu market need to learn how to properly dispose their wastes. That way, they will be creating a healthy and better environment, for themselves and their customers. Customers, will be more eager to come to Eke-Ukwu market to buy goods’.
‘Poor sanitation, is not beneficial to anyone. It can only lead to diseases and sicknesses, such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid. Therefore, there is a need to embrace a healthy environment and make it a way of life, not just in our houses, but also outside of our homes too’ Ndidi said.
‘Thank you for your concern’, Mr. Andrew responded to Ndidi, impressed by what he just heard from the young girl. ‘The management of Eke-Ukwu market is aware of all that you have said and we have tried our best to talk to shop owners. These are adults, who shouldn’t be chased around before they do the right thing, but they seem not to be bothered, despite the fact that they have customers who would prefer clean environment to do their shopping. In fact, we have sent bulk cell phone messages, and even made public announcements but there has been no improvement’, Mr. Andrew lamented.
‘Sir, can I suggest a solution, in order to have a proper environmental sanitation?’, Ndidi asked Mr Andrew. ‘Please do’, he replied. ‘I would suggest to the management of Eke-Ukwu market to employ the services of a waste management company, whose sole responsibility is to manage the wastes within Eke-Ukwu market. The waste management officials, will provide waste bins, where wastes will be collected. The waste management officials will then drive round to collect wastes gathered in the bins. They will then take these wastes to an area far away from where people reside and dispose of the wastes there’.
‘Finally, anyone who does not comply with the directive of disposing of waste properly using the waste bins provided, should be fined. I think the money part of it will be a wake-up call for all of them to start doing the right thing’ Ndidi concluded. ‘Haa! Now I know that the solution you just proffered will work. I know that most of the market people will not want to part with their money’ Mr. Andrew replied. ‘This is going to be interesting’, he added.
The management of Eke-Ukwu market went ahead and implemented Ndidi’s solution to the poor sanitation in Eke-Ukwu market, and it worked. The market people have begun to dispose their wastes properly, and the waste management company have been effective in their disposal of these wastes to faraway destination.
The market has recorded a boost in revenue, as more customers troop into the market to buy items. Mrs. Uzo could not stop telling all the customers who entered her shop, that her daughter Ndidi, proffered a solution for the poor sanitation to the management of Eke-Ukwu market.