Having previously spent time in Rwanda and Kenya, studying and doing research for her BA in African Studies, Miranda Lewis now coordinates Sanergy’s Sales Team. Her job involves finding ways to grow our network of franchisees and address the sanitation crisis she saw all too clearly in other parts of East Africa. She reflects below on finding new market opportunities in the slums.

The first time I came to Africa in 2008, I volunteered for an orphanage in Rwanda. The bathroom there was no more than a tiny room with a small hole in the middle of the floor. The kids peed all over the floor, and many of them didn’t wear shoes. I would use the toilet once in the morning before leaving for the orphanage, and then hold it for 6 hours until I got home. I never expected that the conditions I experienced in Rwanda would come full circle in my work selling toilets with Sanergy.

Last month, one of our Sales Associates was deep in negotiations, convincing a headmaster to buy Fresh Life Toilets for her school. The associate was determined to close this sale, but it seemed like the process was moving very slowly. Considering that 1.6 million children die every year due to diarrheal disease complicated by poor sanitation, getting Sanergy’s mission to kids is paramount, so I tagged along to the next meeting to see what the challenges were.

After our meeting with this school and other organizations working with schools in Nairobi’s slums, I discovered just how much we would need to innovate in order to build a successful model for schools. The headmaster I met with was a perfect candidate for an owner of a Fresh Life Toilet, but had some very valid concerns that we hadn’t needed to address with commercial toilet owners. Providing children with sanitation is critical to keeping a community healthy, but making clean sanitation available to them can be difficult.

One of Sanergy’s very first toilets was opened in a school. We hoped that the installation of the toilet would allow the kids to use it during the day, and run as a business after school hours. As it turned out, the toilet ended up being a lot busier than we expected. We underestimated how important it would be to train all of the school children in using our toilets, and to make sure the toilets had someone to operate them all day long.

The wheels were in motion to come up with a better sanitation solution for schools, starting with addressing the matter of keeping the toilet clean. Last week, we opened two new Fresh Life Toilets at a school in the Kwa Njenga section of Mukuru, along with the help of local theater group, UTENA. Through “Edutainment” events that we’d used to introduce our toilets into the broader community, UTENA educated the students on using the toilet properly and the importance of sanitation. There were skits about handwashing, and each student was shown how to use the Fresh Life Toilets.

The headmaster of this school, Jackline Mogoi, is the perfect ambassador for our expansion into schools. She is not only a great teacher and well networked in the community, but she is also a savvy businesswoman. Jackline had “doubled down” and purchased two additional Fresh Life Toilets for a commercial area, the proceeds of which will help sustain her school’s toilets. With the walls of her school “Fresh Life” branded, she said she, “already feels part and parcel of this movement.”

At the end of the day one of the UTENA members shouted, “Okay, who needs to use the toilet?!”  Immediately all the kids’ hands shot up, “ME! ME! ME!”

The Sanergy team and I are hoping this is the start of bringing better sanitation to children around Nairobi’s slums.

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