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