4 Odes to the Commode on World Toilet Day

Today, on World Toilet Day, dare we say we’re flush with pride to share four of our favorite toilet tales? In the developing world, when we introduce toilets into a community, we’ve seen how lives are dramatically improved.

The World Health Organization reports that 2.3 billion people — one sixth of the world’s population — live without the dignity and safety of a toilet. Even schools and healthcare centers can suffer the lack of basic sanitation.

Imagine for a moment what your life would be like without a toilet. As a woman, you would be vulnerable to assault, simply because you need to relieve yourself at night. You would routinely suffer from sanitation-related illnesses because of unclean water — everything from chronic diarrhea to potential blindness. Got or want kids? They’re the most susceptible to disease.

But luckily, there is good loo news! There are many ways to bring toilets to people around the world, whether they come in the form of latrines, biogas septic tank digesters, or flush toilets. These are some of our favorite odes to the commode:

1. First Flush

Children in rural Nicaragua rejoice over new flush toilets that replaced pit latrines. Credit: FH

“I’m done…what do I do now?” asked a boy inside one of the stalls. I was chatting with one of our field staff on a trip to Nicaragua, as the scene unfolded behind us. My colleague pointed to the newly installed set of flush toilets in the school and the group of kids gathered outside.

“Push the lever on the side!” one of his friends instructed, as the young boy bolted out of the stall, shocked at the powerful rush of water that makes things disappear!

Before the installation of these flush toilets, this rural school had just three pit latrines that flooded during winter rains, spilling waste into areas where children played, and polluting the water well. Sickness took its toll on attendance, especially during those wet winter months. Our project here helped the community replace pit latrines with a new well and pump that piped water to the new flush toilets. Now over 150 kids are healthier and staying in school.

I still smile remembering the surprise on that young boy’s face at his first flush — a hygiene miracle!

2. From potty to petrol

Biogas septic tanks turn human waste into biogas fuel that can be used for cooking and heating. Credit: FH

Nilo Jubic’s home is on a swamp in the Philippines. Water rises during heavy rains and high tide. Most of the families in the area had no toilets, and when his wife and daughters had to go into the field at night for privacy, it was nearly impossible to avoid stepping in human feces in this soggy landscape.

Growing up here, Nilo understood that the need to contain sewage in this swampy area was paramount because it was polluting the water, contaminating food and making children too ill to go to school. But sanitation in this geography was costly. “It is really embarrassing to defecate in the open, but we had no choice. No matter how I wished to construct our own toilet, I could not afford the installation expenses.”

So it was a long-anticipated day when our staff in the Philippines was able to launch its WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project in Nilo’s area. Local staff trained community members on the construction of a biogas septic tank digester, bio sand water filter, rainwater-harvesting tank, and a communal latrine for ten families. But that’s not all. That septic tanks turn what was once hazardous waste — animal and human manure — into biogas fuel families can use for cooking and heating.

3. Banana trees are now for bananas

“Before this program, I did not know the value of digging a latrine; we were hiding behind the banana trees for our toileting needs,” said Faustine Nkengurutse, a 27-year- old mother in Burundi. “Before eating, everyone washed their hands one after another in only one casserole or basin with the same water that had become dirty. My children fell ill so often.” That was life for Faustine before we worked with the community on hygiene education.

None of us are born understanding the impact of good hygiene. That’s why educating others about the use of clean latrines and proper hand washing significantly reduces illness. Funny thing how that works — you need buy-in from the entire community to keep the water clean, free of cholera and typhoid.

Faustine now jokes, “Even my husband was finally convinced that I have not wasted my time by participating in this program.”

4. Home Sweet (smelling) Home

Thanks to a joint FH/USAID project, Balla Halkano stands next to her newly built latrine, and now teaches other women in her community about best sanitation and hygiene practices. Credit: FH

“The winds blew the unpleasant smell towards my home making it awful,” Balla Halkano explained to our Kenyan staff that her home was particularly fraught because it was on the edge of the village near the bush. Of 43 households in her village, only two had latrines, making open defecation the norm. “House flies were all over the village, and cases of diarrhea were very common among villagers, but alarming in children under five.”

Ajah udhanitif alkani guya oolu dadamne, maan waaqi nu tolcha”? “What does God have for my children and I to curb this unbearable situation?” she found herself asking.

The answer, it turns out, would be a toilet.

FH implemented a USAID-funded project targeting 42,500 people like Balla through forums between health workers and villagers, teaching communities to build affordable latrines appropriate to this arid region of Kenya, using local materials.

Balla’s family built their latrine, and she’s determined to be a role model for her village because she learned through these forums that her community was living in “a filthy environment without knowing the bomb they were sitting on.” Balla says they have learned about more than toilets — they’ve learned self-sufficiency is in their hands.

Next time you hear that water rush, I hope you will take a moment to appreciate how much better all lives are with a single flush!

Ending all forms of human poverty by graduating communities & walking with the most vulnerable people in Asia, Africa and Latin America since 1971.

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