Mixing tradition with innovation: the legacy of a leader who helped eliminate open defecation


Seven years ahead of Ghana’s 2025 target to completely eradicate open defecation practice, the Nandom district in the Upper West Region of the country had won the struggle to end open defecation, district wide. Narrated by immediate past Environmental Health Officer of the Nandom District Assembly, Jerry Sabogu, this is the story of the Paramount Chief Dr. Charles Puouure Puobechiir VII. A story of strong will, dedication, and leadership that effectively rallied the support of all traditional leaders and communities to make Nandom District Ghana’s first open defecation free certified district in Ghana.

Naa [1] Dr. Charles Puouure Puobechiir VII, overlord of the Nandom traditional area [2], was an influential and hardworking man who embraced new ideas with the potential to bring about development in his area. He was known to be a firm king who did not consent to acts that would be detrimental to the development of Nandom District. He was also a kind and responsible king, who considered the health of his people to be paramount to their success, paying the health insurance premium for anyone who was not able to afford it. It was this keen interest in the health of his community that pushed Naa Puouure Puobechiir VII to embrace the ambitious goal of ending open defecation in Nandom.  

Under his leadership, Nandom consistently placed first in the Upper West region’s open defecation free (ODF) league table; since its introduction in 2017.

Having implemented SNV’s Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (SSH4A) approach [3], Nandom’s success was largely due to the influence exerted by the traditional council who were encouraged by the king to be involved in achieving ODF status. Naa Puouure Puobechiir VII drafted announcements, stressing the importance of the issue.  He assembled all chiefs and queen mothers under his traditional area to discuss the sanitation challenges, and to chart a clear path towards an ODF Nandom.

No longer an afterthought: a latrine is built alongside house construction

Good hygiene in practice: a tippy-tap is installed next to the toilet

Four traditional leaders forums were held between 2015 and 2017 in order to promote sanitation in the Nandom. The discussions centred on household sanitation facility ownership and handwashing practices. Through the Nandom Naa’s exemplary facilitation of the discussions, all chiefs and queen mothers in the Traditional Council agreed to implement these sanitation practices, and began to push for the construction and use of household toilets in all communities. They also emphasised the practice of handwashing with soap (or alternatives). The king was active in sanitation hygiene awareness programmes, e.g., he participated in radio shows to encourage people to refrain from the practice of open defecation. He ensured the enforcement of community regulations, and exacted a penalty on defaulters who refused to construct latrines for their private use. He took the time to sensitise defaulters on the reason behind his sanitation advocacy, and he explained the negative impact of open defecation on the community’s health, and human dignity.

The Nandom Naa was also seen as a benevolent leader who identified vulnerable persons in the District and supported them with items like zinc and funds to enable them to construct their own latrines. During the Nandom Traditional Festival in 2015, he provided a platform for the SAFI Latrine (introduced by SNV as a durable sanitation facility) to be showcased. In recognition of his contribution, SNV bestowed on him the title of ‘Sanitation Ambassador’.

Nandom’s visionary leader (1985-2018), Naa Puouure Puobechiir VII

Unfortunately, Naa Puouure Puobechiir VII could not partake in Nandom’s final push to achieve ODF status, taking his last breath at a time when the District was at 94% sanitation coverage. Nandom District was declared 100% ODF in March 2019, marking the indelible contributions made by the late Nandom Naa.


Prepared by: Jerry Sabogu, Environmental Health Officer of the Nandom District Assembly

#NandomIsODF short stories
The posthumous story of Nandom’s Naa opens the SSH4A/V4CP four-part #NandomIsODF short story collection that celebrates the very people who contributed to the District’s success. Throughout the month of June 2019, SNV is publishing the stories, perspectives and views of traditional leaders, government, and front-line staff who were instrumental in making Nandom a model district of sanitation and hygiene. 

[1] Naa is the local title given to chiefs in the Upper West Region of Ghana.
[2] In Ghana, a distinction is made between traditional and non-traditional areas, in that the former is headed by a Chief, and the latter, by a District Chief Executive who represents the government.
[3] Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (SSH4A) is SNV’s integrated rural sanitation approach to strengthen the capacity of local authorities in developing and enforcing area-wide sanitation service delivery models for their jurisdictions. Placing users at the centre of all efforts: households, schools, health facilities and public places, SSH4A aims to create and /or change WASH systems.


Theresa Swanzy Baffoe

Project Manager - WASH