Photo Essay: One-of-a-kind Latrines

Our day began with a little mystery.  We were driving along a rural bumpy road in the Northwest of Haiti and were stopped by a man waving us in the direction of a house just up the road.  We stopped by the house and when we got out, we saw these cement cylinders. What are those?!

Desroulins, Latrines Nursery_004

Come to find out, they are toilet seats!  We were spending a couple of days visiting two communities that World Concern partnered with to build latrines.  That was when I realized I did not know very much about latrines and I was going to learn a lot today–Latrine 101: outside the classroom.

Desroulins, Latrines Nursery_006Meet Pastor Marc.  He’s the guy who built those two toilet seats.  Aside from being a pastor, he is a mason and was the local supervisor for all the latrines built in the community of Desroulins.  He explained that each family that received a latrine gave wood, water, rocks, and gravel for it.  The rest of the supplies and the labor was provided by World Concern.

UNICEF estimates that only 17% of people who live in rural Haiti use improved sanitation facilities.  Latrines are one kind of an improved sanitation facility.  Without proper facilities the only other option for people is to defecate outside.  This practice spreads water borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, and diarrhea.

“It’s a big problem in this area,” said Pastor Marc, when asked about open defecation in Desroulins.

We saw several latrines, but I wanted to take you along to see two of them that stood out as unique and different than any I had seen before.

Beauchamps, Latrines Nursery_015We approached this gate in a nearby community named Beauchamps.  The gate sat open as an unspoken welcome for us to walk up the hill and I could see the shiny latrine behind the tree in the distance.

Beauchamps, Latrines Nursery_003Meet Mr. Thomas.  He came out to greet us with a firm handshake and was pleased to show us his new latrine.  He has ten children, five of whom still live here with him.
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These may well be the shiniest latrines you will ever see.  But they are more than shiny.  They are healthy.  The general point is to keep people’s waste confined in the pit so it is not getting into their garden, water source, or anywhere else human waste should not be. These latrines are designed specifically to do just that:

  •  The cement pit keeps all the waste in one place and prevents leakage into soil.
  • Each pit is slightly raised so that rainwater will not collect in it.
  • The white PVC pipe provides ventilation to keep out those unpleasant smells as well as flies who can carry disease.
  • The tin walls go all the way to the floor and the doors completely close to keep rats and other animals out too.

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But one thing about this latrine was unique.  Most are placed behind the houses but this one was out in front, sitting on the hill for all to see.  “Now that’s a throne with a view,” I thought, but that was not what they had in mind.

When we asked Mr. Thomas about it he said, “It’s marketing.”  When people see the beautiful latrine, they will ask who built it and the mason who did the work (who is a resident of that community) might get some more business in the future.  It made sense.  I just hadn’t thought of it like that before.  This was a latrine and a rural billboard.  Jobs in this part of Haiti are hard to come by.  This was a clever way to attract customers so the local mason could continue to earn a living.

Beauchamps, Latrines Nursery_068

The second latrine I wanted to take you to see is behind the house of Mr. and Mrs. Roland and their five children.  Walking over, it looked just like all the others, but once we opened the door, we saw its innovative design feature.

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It had an adult-sized seat and a child-sized seat!  Perfect for all her children.

Beauchamps, Latrines Nursery_072B

Mrs. Roland pointed out an old pit across their small corn field that used to be their latrine.  They had built one by digging a hole and putting boards across it but without the proper design or resources, it had collapsed into the ground.  Their new two seated latrine is durable, not to mention more sanitary against the spread of disease.

“I used to take care of my needs outside in the garden but now I don’t have to,” said Mrs. Roland.

Desroulins, Latrines Nursery_015

The problem of poor sanitation still exists in rural Haiti but whether it be with a latrine on a hill or one with a child-sized seat, we’re working to change that one family at a time.

Ilova no longer fears snakes, buffalo, or cholera

It’s noon, the least ideal time of day for interviewing and taking pictures. Stomachs are rumbling, the brisk morning air has been swallowed up by the afternoon heat, and the sun is positioned directly over our heads.


Ilova Kokoto and I move into the shade of Ilova’s meager brick home. She lives here with her daughter and granddaughter. Natural light streams through the doorway and frames Ilova’s face – exposing her wisdom-induced wrinkles and deep brown eyes. “I’m not able to know my age,” Ilova shares, but it is apparent that she has lived to see a thing or two.

We are in Basuba, a rural village in Lamu county – a detour off of the journey up Kenya’s coast, the road toward Somalia.

“Life in Basuba is difficult. For many years, we have suffered from famine due to numerous droughts,” Ilova explains in perfect Kiswahili, an infamous attribute of Kenya’s coastal region.

Resting her chin on her weathered hands, the mother of four continues, “Until two years ago, we had no clean water. We traveled far to collect dirty water, and many people died from cholera.”

Though proud of Basuba’s recent clean water improvement, Ilova further informs me about the village’s ongoing challenges – many of which will soon be considered a shida (Kiswahili for trouble) of the past.

Take hygiene, for example. When World Concern first visited Basuba, the community was living naively in hygiene indifference. Having never been educated about the importance of drinking clean water, relieving oneself in a contained area, and washing one’s hands, preventable diseases were rampant among local residents.

Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba’s residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.
Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba’s residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.

In the past three years, World Concern has partnered with the people of Basuba to install a large djabia (a clean water catchment pictured above) and 20 latrines.

Peter standing proud.

Ilova laughs recalling her defecation memories of the past. “When we would relieve ourselves, we would have to go deep in the bush. Even at night. Sometimes I would encounter snakes and buffalo and have to run for my life. It was very hectic.”

It did not require much consideration for the Basuba community to insert latrine use into their daily routines. Ilova explains, “The toilets are nice, we are using them often. We now don’t have to go where there is a lot of danger.” 

Sitting on the dirt in Ilova’s doorway, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the glaring simplicity that is such an immense issue – an issue that is lessening both the quality and length of human life all over the world. Simply put, many survive without available, clean water and hygiene education. These should be a basic human rights, yes?

Though the people of Basuba still suffer from poor farming conditions, World Concern’s partnership has transformed a significant part of their daily life. According to Ilova, “Because of the toilets, we don’t feel the sicknesses we used to have. We used to complain of stomach issues but we no longer do because the conditions are clean.”

Peter Okongi, a Basuba primary school teacher who has been translating for me throughout the interview, proceeds to chime in (though I will toot my own horn a little here – I could understand about half of Ilova’s sentences. Mimi nimefahamu!), “When I first moved here, there was no clean water and no latrines. Clean water was very difficult to find. People could travel between 4 – 5 km to collect unhygienic water. My students would often complain of stomach ache. Even me, I was often sick.”

Ilova outside her home.
Ilova outside her home.
[Right to Left]: Ilova, her granddaughter Basho, and her daughter Ahaldo.
Beautiful Ahaldo.
Beautiful Ahaldo.

A Nairobi native, 36-year-old Peter was assigned to teach in Basuba three years prior – just before World Concern installed the djabia. Frustrated that his students frequently missed school as a result of their poor health and the distance of the remote water locations, Peter is particularly jovial about the community’s recent improvements, “Even school attendance has increased. Students used to travel so far that they sometimes had to stay a night away. But now that the water is available, more are able to attend school, where we are also teaching about hygiene.”

In front/inside of Basuba's school.
In front/inside of Basuba’s school.

Ilova’s gorgeous daughter and granddaughter step into the home, plopping themselves into plastic chairs. Looking at her loved ones, Ilova warmly expresses, “Now that the toilets are built, we are no longer afraid. We feel supported.”

Snakes, buffalo, and cholera be gone. “We feel supported.”

Support empowers people live with dignity – to live a quality of life that is deserved by all human beings. Empowered with clean water and education, in partnership with World Concern, the people of Basuba are jumping across stepping stones toward holistic transformation.

Here’s the most beautiful part: with education, training, and proper equipment, on their own, the people of Basuba are going to be able to maintain a lifestyle that includes clean water and hygiene for years to come.

A Dangerous World Without Restrooms

As I visited our work in villages in Laos with my wife, I was reminded more clearly than ever that basic hygiene and sanitation just doesn’t exist in some places in the world.

A small boy in Dak Euy, Laos
This little boy and the other children of Dak Euy will be healthier with basic hygiene in place.

In the village of Dak Euy, we saw children  barely old enough to walk  relieving themselves right in the middle of the village.

Human beings should not have to live like this. It’s not just a matter of dignity. For these villagers, this lack of hygiene and sanitation is killing them.

You and I know how to prevent disease, but people who live in poor and marginalized villages have not yet heard. They don’t know to use toilets – or to at least isolate where they go to the bathroom or wash their hands.

What they are very familiar with, however, is disease, illness and death.

It is common for kids to die before they reach their fifth birthday in Dak Euy and the surrounding villages. Conservatively, through our interviews, I estimate at least 10% of children don’t reach the age of five. This is 17 times higher than the child mortality rate in the U.S.

By another estimate, half of the children are, dying before age five. It is no wonder that in these tribal communities, children are not immediately named, and that repeatedly throughout our trip, we met mothers who have lost children. As the father of a healthy, silly, 4-year-old girl, it hurts to even begin to imagine their pain.

Malaria, typhoid, dysentery – these preventable diseases all plague villagers – and especially hit the most vulnerable people the worst: children born into unclean environments, with little food, no clean water, and fragile immune systems.

Poor sanitation and accompanying water-borne disease is one of the worst health problems in the world. It is undoubtedly one of the primary killers of these kids.

With no sanitation, the cycle of sickness repeats itself over and over again.

As a hardy world traveler, I pride myself on never getting sick. But on this trip, I ended my stint in SE Asia with a flat-on-my-back, gotta-be-near-the bathroom, upset stomach yuck fest. I did not want to do anything but read a book, go to sleep, and stay near the bathroom. And I was clutching my stomach in a hotel room in Bangkok, not on the dirty, hard floor of a hut with no bathroom at all.

I cannot imagine dealing with that kind of discomfort, and far worse, for much of my life. I shudder to think about what that would do to me both physically and mentally, to have this occur over and over again. But this is daily life for so many villagers in Dak Euy, and many other struggling communities.

Broken toilet in Dak Euy
The remnants of an old latrine can be seen in the center of Dak Euy. Villagers will be healthier with new latrines and hygiene training.

I am glad to say that our supporters (that’s you!) are helping villagers get beyond this cycle of disease.

While I was visiting our villages, our contracted drilling truck arrived and we hit water for a new well in Dak Din. It was incredible, one of the most exciting moments of my life! Just imagine the transformative power of clean, convenient water. We are also teaching villagers about hygiene (thank God!), and doing it in a way that it will stick.

We will be constructing latrines in these communities, with the help of the villagers. And because they are learning why and how, they can build more latrines once we leave. The idea with all of our work is for it to be transformational, not temporary. Our desire in these villages is for children to use a latrine, wash their hands – and stay healthy.

When I look at the ground in these villages, I am repelled that people and animals relieve themselves wherever they please. And yet I know by visiting developing communities, that life does get better. Disease subsides. And that’s what we’re shooting for in these villages in Laos.

Changing lives is working with people over time, revealing a better path – not just directing people to “our way.” In doing so, in loving people with sincerity, we show them a clearer look at the life God would want for any of us.

Help transform lives in this village.

We roll VIP style

Kelly Ranck is moving to east Africa to serve with World Concern as a communication liaison. Here’s a report about the impact of latrines and hygiene from her recent trip there.

We roll VIP.

You heard me. World Concern rolls VIP style. I’m talkin’ Ventilated Improved Pit latrines. And this is changing lives.

Clean water and basic hygiene are concepts that we take for granted. In the villages of Kenya and South Sudan, such information is foreign. Though they often live happy (still difficult) lives, many people here have never been exposed to the idea that their lives could be prolonged, and less difficult, if they were to practice good hygiene.

Here is where the VIPs come in. As a part of our One Village Transformed campaign, World Concern educates communities about preventing diarrhea, cholera, and other water-borne/hygiene-related diseases.

VIP latrines in Kenya
New VIP latrines in Kenya. Photo by Kelly Ranck.

World Concern trained the community of Benane, Kenya to build this beautiful VIP. They are now educated as to the basics of:

A. Using the VIP latrines and their importance in preventing diseases

B. How to practice good hygiene to protect and improve their health

Another reason I love VIPs (besides the fact that they spared me from a handful of moments of doing my business in public) is that they enable more children to attend school.  Here’s how they relate: healthy children can effectively travel to and attentively engage in school. Clean water and sanitation are significant factors in increasing opportunities for education.

School kids in Benane, Kenya
Students in Banane, Kenya, wash with water from a dirty stream behind the school. With World Concern’s help, they now have access to VIP latrines and clean water.

Because World Concern has empowered locals to build a Treadle pump, more students are attending class. Instead of spending the large portion of their day walking to water sources in order to gather unsanitary water, children now have access to clean, safe water and more time to attend class. And with latrines at the school, the underground water sources will remain unpolluted and safe to drink.

I look forward to checking back in with the people of Benane and getting some VIP access when I move to Africa!

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Latrines mean more than comfort and convenience

At least two bathrooms. That was the minimum we wanted for our 3 person family for a house we bought this year. I feel kind of silly that we have 2 and a half bathrooms after today, when I saw the joy families had of having one – in the form of an outhouse.

A latrine in Sri Lanka.
A woman stands with her baby outside a latrine built by World Concern in Sri Lanka.

I’m in Sri Lanka now, high in the tea-growing region – where poor tea pickers live in shanties on mountainsides. The average wage here is pretty terrible – and it’s part of the reason why these hard-working people can’t afford the basics of life – including a place to go to the bathroom.

Families I met today were so very happy. It’s like they were on the Oprah episode where, “Everybody gets a car! Wooo!” But no, they’re thrilled to have a toilet. Just think about it—to have a convenient place to go to the restroom is a pretty big deal. I met one mom who has six children, and up to this point, they have had to go to the bathroom off in the hills somewhere, or use one of only a few toilets at neighbors’ homes.

Aside from convenience – and pride – the health benefits of a latrine are enormous. Once we go into communities, install latrines, and teach how germs are spread, children are sick less. Disease is not spread at the same rate. Lives are improved – even saved – because of latrines.

Latrines in the Global Gift Guide