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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Let's Talk Toilets!

Late last November, I did a latrine project with Steph, one of my sitemates...read her blog about it here, if ya wish.  Steph and I, along with our Senegalese counterpart, Demba Balde, wrote a grant and purchased materials to construct 15 latrines in the villages of Goundaga and Lengewal, then conducted a latrine care/handwashing training.  The project went very smoothly, so when Demba approached me about doing a similar latrine project, building 12 simple pit latrines at 12 different residences in a nearby village called Saare Kutayel, I accepted (Steph was busy with other work and couldn't help out with this one).
This was probably the easiest thing I've done in Peace Corps.  Demba handled all of it promptly and efficiently.  My job was to write the grant, deliver the money, collect the receipts (all clearly written for exactly the amount I'd budgeted) and conduct a handwashing/sanitation training.  Demba took care of finding the mason, delivering the supplies, keeping everyone to the schedule, informing the heads of households about the trainings, and helping me Pulaar during the whole process.  It was a breeze.

The grant funds covered cement and steel rebar to put inside the cement to strengthen it.  The grant recipients dug their own holes using only rudimentary hand tools without remuneration, no easy task in an area where the lifeless sun-baked goat-trodden ground hasn't seen rain in over six months.
The mason Demba hired was lovely.  He was polite, hardworking, and prompt, and honest throughout the entire process.  Here he is helping one of the latrine recipients set the cement for the cover to their latrine.
When the cement slab was dry, it was simply moved over the hole.  Done!  New latrine.
Demba insisted on taking this picture...awkward.
A week after the latrines were finished, I conducted a latrine care/handwashing training under a mango tree in the village.  All latrine recipients were required to attend, and I strong-armed a couple PCVs (Corin and LK) into attending as well.
I'm having a serious love affair with flip charts lately, so I utilized one during this training.  I drew a picture of a latrine, then had several other cut-outs that I taped on the latrine picture to talk about what does and does not belong in a latrine. 
Review: Poop, both child and adult, goes in the latrine.  Garbage, sticks, and rainwater do not.  Flies also should not go in the latrine, so keep the hole covered.
Then we moved over to the chief's house for the handwashing component of the training.  I had gone to the site early to help make a tippy-tap (or yapsoodo, the Pulaar name that Demba gave it.)  Everyone practiced using the device to wash their hands, then we discussed why it was more sanitary to use a device like that rather than washing one-hand-at-a-time with a plastic kettle. (If you wash one hand at a time, germs go from the dirty hand to the kettle handle to the "clean" hand, so after washing you're still not clean.)
That's it!  Everyone sat around and drank tea while waiting for lunch, I gave them soap and rope to make their own handwashing stations, then we all went home.  I'll be going back to the village in a couple weeks to see if anyone actually constructed a handwashing station and to ask questions about the latrines.     

So...was this a successful project?  I keep going back and forth about whether I'm proud of it or not.

Demba, my counterpart, has ambitious plans for me to do a latrine-a-palooza in the next dry season (October-November or so.)  He has a list of 82 more households he wants to build latrines for. 
Should I do it?
 1) It would be easy.  Demba did 95% of the work for this project.  The large-scale latrine project he's proposing would probably be my best opportunity to do a big project in Senegal.  After all, I only have 10 months left.
1) I feel exploited.  Demba has a long history of using Peace Corps volunteers to fund his projects - there was another latrine project done in Goundaga in 2011, and probably even more before that.  Sites are supposed to be closed after three generations of volunteers, and Demba has already had four, not counting me or Steph.  He should technically be cut off.
 2) This is a chance to increase health and sanitation for 82 households.  It fits clearly into my project framework, the Peace Corps document that tells me what I'm supposed to be doing here.
 2) None of those 82 households are in my village, which might lead to resentment.  I haven't pursued latrines in my village because no one has approached me asking for them (so I didn't see a perceived need), but at the same time, if people in my village see others getting a latrine, they might demand to get one, too.  Jealousy hurts.
 3)  It wouldn't be a problem to fund it.  I posted the original latrine project grant (~$500) right before I went on vacation, hoping that if friends or family wanted to donate to my work they could just donate to the grant.  Instead, it was fully funded by strangers within two days of posting. 
 3) I'm not sure it's a great use of money. After all, literally thousands of years ago, the romans had aquaducts to supply their toilets with running water.  Why, in 2015, do people here still need someone to pay for a hole to poop in?  If it were perceived as a real need, I think they might have found a way to pay for it themselves by now.
 4) The community members who would be receiving the latrines are willing to pay a fairly large contribution (2000 CFA) and to attend a series of water, sanitation, and hygiene trainings, in addition to doing all the unskilled labor (digging the holes, transporting the materials with a donkey cart).
 4) Same as above.  I am probably the 500th person to try to teach water and sanitation practices here.  I don't think lack of knowledge is the problem, and I'm not sure if trainings would help.
 5) I have the time.  I do much more work here than I used to, but less than I did in the states.  It'd be nice to feel busy again.
 5) If I'm busy with a large-scale latrine project I might not have time to do other work in my village.
 6) The proposed sites for the latrine-a-palooza are in the "red zone," where volunteers currently cannot serve due to safety and security concerns.  That means that no Peace Corps volunteer will be posted there in the foreseeable future, so if I don't do this project, I don't know who will.
6) USAID, Unicef, WorldVision, Adamas, Water Charity...if I don't build these latrines, someone else probably will.  And if a new organization keeps swooping in and building latrines every couple years, there's no reason for cmmunity members to take initiative to build their own latrines.  Why buy something if you know you can get it for free if you just wait awhile longer?

So...what do you think?  I've been thinking about this for over a week and I'm still not anywhere close to making a decision.  I'd love some inputs.