Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Latrines: A Very Good Thing

During my baseline survey, many of the 62 family compounds I interviewed talked about wanting a latrine. There were some pre-existing latrines in the area, but many of them weren't very sturdy and were susceptible to collapse, particularly during the rainy season.
A partially collapsed latrine
Two years ago the Catholic Mission of Salémata held a training for a group of village masons that covered ideal pit dimensions, durable latrine designs, how to mold a concrete latrine cap, and installing ventilation pipes. So, there was obviously a high level of community interest and available skilled masons, but the high cost and inconvenience of obtaining building materials meant that very few families had actually installed a latrine, and of course, without latrines people are forced to practice outdoor defecation, which contributes to the spread of dysentery and other diarrheal diseases.


All of this led me to write a Peace Corps Partnership Project grant proposal, and with an incredible amount of support from my friends and family in America it was quickly funded. Once I had the means, it was time to go back to the hardware stores in Kédougou where I’d gotten quotes, order the materials and arrange to have them transported the 80k (50 Miles) on a rough, unpaved road out to Salémata. Ordering the supplies was painless, but withdrawing the money from my account turned out to take almost five hours of waiting at the bank. With help from my host family and neighbors we spread the word about the project requirements and held meetings to make a list of participants and a plan for how people would pay their contributions, compensate the masons, and verify that the work had been done. Once all the supplies actually arrived (there were some truck problems and some inadequate stock problems, so it took a couple tries to get everything delivered and ready to go) participants paid their contribution and got checked off on the Chief’s list, and then came in pairs to collect their cement and materials.

Once the latrine building got underway I walked around with the head of the village Sanitation Committee to check in and see how things were going. We chatted with people about the project, talked about different ways to make covers for the hole, and made sure to work the many benefits of hand-washing with soap into the conversation. People were really positive and it was a huge relief to see that the whole thing had worked – latrines were built, awareness was raised, progress was made.
Some of the latrines are totally done and in use, but there are a few people who still need to put up the crintin privacy fencing. Now that hot season is upon us the Bassari craftsmen are starting to show up to the weekly lumo market with sheets of crintin, stools, beds, tables and chairs made from something that everyone calls bamboo, so hopefully the rest of the latrines will be screen in and operational in the next few weeks.



Working on this project has been a fantastic experience. As one of my neighbors said, “Adama, this is a very good thing for Salémata. Your work is good and now we have a latrine in our household. It will be a good thing and the people will see the latrines and remember you. Whenever I look at our latrine I will think of you.” As flattering as that is, this project wouldn't have happened (or would have been much, much more difficult) if people hadn't already been interested in latrines, if there hadn't been trained masons on hand, if my family and friends in America hadn't put on such a successful fundraiser, or if the chief and Sanitation Committee hadn't be willing to do the lion’s share of the accounting and explaining and distribution of supplies, and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed time, energy, and support to the project.


2 comments:

  1. Having lived in Nigeria in the '60's, I can really understand what you have done.I see that, Not only is your village a healthier place to live in, but you have been a remarkable Peace Corps Volunteer. I am not surprised that you will continue in Africa on another project and am sure you will have an interesting life, continuing to bemnefit others.

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  2. Thank you so much! It really has been a great experience. Nigeria must have been pretty interesting, too!

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