Triggering Change

After visiting Mathare 10 and talking with some of their Urban Community-Led Total Sanitation (UCLTS) leaders last week, we attended their planning meeting this week to learn more about their success so far and their next steps. Over the past several months, Rose Nyawira from Community Cleaning Services (CCS) has launched the first phase of UCLTS: “triggering” sessions which help neighbors realize the dangers of open defecation and the need for hygienic sanitation.

During this process, the community holds open meetings to discuss and even view the their own practices around “shit” – a word that the UCLTS team intentionally uses to emphasize the vulgarity of open defecation and to shame people into realizing the err of their ways. During these meetings, “natural leaders” emerge. Not only do they take the lead in speaking with their neighbors and calling out their neighbors’ open defecation, but they also become volunteer facilitators of subsequent meetings.

Urban Community-Led Total Sanitation (UCLTS) facilitators discuss next steps of their campaign.

For UCLTS to work, its message must spread virally, with a critical urgency and passion to combat the behaviors that spread deadly disease. This week’s planning meeting confirmed the success of Mathare 10’s initial triggering. When we arrived, we found 25 facilitators and natural leaders already packed into a crowded meeting room hard at work on the full day’s agenda ahead of them. On the butcher paper taped to the wall, the group had listed new groups to engage and new methods to employ. Despite their solid beginning, they recognize the need to talk to even more people with even greater gravitas about open defecation.

Less Talk, More Action

The group also, though, recognizes that some people in the community are ready to progress to the next phase of UCLTS. They know that open defecation is bad, and they want alternatives. In UCLTS, no one solution should be imposed; instead, the community must develop consensus around their own sanitation plans. During our previous visit, we had discussed Sanergy with a few facilitators. Recognizing that our holistic sanitation system could be a good option for their community, Rose and the other facilitators asked us to present our model to the whole group.

After explaining each element of the Sanergy system – the small, permanent, and clean toilets; the daily waste collection; and the waste processing into biogas and fertilizer – we walked around the room, showing photos of the existing toilets in Kibera and Lunga Lunga. Well-versed on sanitation, the group peppered us with questions.

Ani and Rose describe Sanergy to the group.

Question: The toilets are designed for 100 uses per day or 12-15 families, but what if a plot has 20 families?

Answer: You could empty the waste more than once a day, but ideally you would build two toilets so that people would not have to wait in line.

Question: How would the Sanergy system work with the people who are currently collecting trash and manually emptying pit latrines?

Answer: If they want, they could take a safer job as a Sanergy waste collector or even operate their own toilets.

Active Sanitation Consumers

Apparently satisfied with our answers, they enthusiastically shared feedback about the model. Overwhelmingly, this hygiene-focused group raved about the easy-to-clean design and the promise of toilet tissue and water for hand-washing. Several commented that the compact Sanergy toilet would be easier to integrate into their dense neighborhoods than the large latrine blocks they had also considered. Perhaps more importantly, they felt confident in their ability both to secure such small plots of land from landlords and to afford the loan for the $200 units.

Women UCLTS facilitators emphasize the importance of a toilet's proximity to homes.

The option of building toilets close to homes struck a chord among the group. The women in the room nodded in serious agreement when one woman said that, no matter how hygienic or affordable the toilet was, she would only use it if it were close to her home and therefore safe.  Similarly, they hoped that becoming micro-entrepreneurs as Sanergy toilet operators would offer a safer alternative to their current roles as maids in the wealthier neighborhoods – jobs for which they travel long distances, are paid very little, and are often mistreated by their employers.

As they continue their UCLTS conversations, the facilitators will now not only be able to generate demand for hygienic sanitation by also to discuss one viable solution. Leaving the meeting, we promised to bring them photos they could show their neighbors and share the hope for true total sanitation.

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