The beginning of the end

We set aside the final week of our trip with two primary objectives in mind: understand the financing piece of our model, and understand our users’ needs.

We jumped right into work on Monday after arriving at 5:30am from Mombasa (coastal city) on the bus. We were a bit uneasy knowing that Eric was robbed in the same spot coming from the same place. Still, we got back to our hostel and prepped to go out and meet some of our users.

We met up with Emery from SuSan design, and we headed over to Umande (the org we met with during the first week). At that point, I thought that the lack of sleep from the bus ride was catching up with me, as I wasn’t feeling so great. We arrived at Umande only to find that they weren’t willing to have us meet their users, and a fairly awkward conversation ensued. I think that Emery’s presence confused Umande and made them uneasy. Eventually we cleared the misunderstanding (it wasn’t a good day because there was an evaluation happening at the same time). By the end everyone was in good spirit, but I was feeling exceptionally cold and sat in the sun with 3 layers on.

I continued to feel worse, so Ani and I headed back to the hostel where I talked to the owner, who suggested it might be malaria given my symptoms (I also had a fever and minor diarrhea over the weekend [hey, nothing is off-limits in a blog about sanitation in the slums!]). Ani grabbed me a malaria test kit, which turned up negative, and the owner (a registered nurse) said it was probably an amoeba, and suggested I take metronidazole.

I ended up sleeping most of the day, alternating between feeling extremely cold and sweating until my clothes were drenched. I woke up the next day feeling a bit better, so I decided to go along on the field visit to Mathare, where Ecotact’s lone slum toilet is located.

We talked to both users and non-users of the toilets to learn more about their underlying needs pertaining to sanitation. Some key observations were:

  • materials are of key importance: although “iron sheets” are sufficient to make sturdy walls, concrete structures signal permanence and that the toilet is there to stay
  • residents often prefer toilets operated by organizations rather than government or individuals
  • more lighting in the surrounding areas may drive more people to use toilets instead of “the bush”
  • the police can be helpful: when they catch people defecating in the open, they bring them to the IkoToilet to let them know it’s there if they want to use it
  • people tend to use the showers more during the middle of the day, and the toilets at the beginning and end
  • politics can be influential: some people hate the local politician who endorses the Iko Toilet, and refuse to use it
  • showers (at the toilets) solve the lack of privacy at home when trying to find a place/time to shower (houses are usually one-room, and showers are bucket style, with water draining to the mud drainage ditches outside)
  • most people don’t want to go in the bush (it’s a pride issue)

After our visit, I still wasn’t feeling good, so we headed to Nairobi hospital for a checkup. I met with a doctor who ordered some tests, including malaria, stool microscopy, and a blood count. We waited for a while, and the results were ready around 9pm: no malaria, no amoeba, no typhoid. Looking at some of the blood numbers, the problem was probably an intestinal virus and should be self limiting. I got some probiotics and slept.

The next morning I felt significantly better, so I went along on the visit to Equity Bank. Equity is a large commercial bank that started offering microfinance services about two years ago. We met with a couple of impressive, fast-talking Kenyans who helped us understand how Equity is relevant to our project. Our key take-aways were:

  • there is no lower limit for loans at Equity
  • clients should have collateral with value of 5x the loan amount (!)
  • Equity does microfranchising on a case-by-case basis

The last point is probably the most important to us: we want to have small toilet units purchased and operated by individuals that can be paid for with financing from microfinance banks. Given that the banks are willing to look at microfranchising proposals case-by-case tells us that we have to make sure our concept is up-and-running and shows good numbers before we can reach out to that channel for funding. Still, it’s a big positive to know that it’s possible

We spent the rest of the day catching up on email, and had some delicious Ethiopian food for less than $2.50 a person.

On Thursday, we had some time in the morning, so we went on a run. My stomach may not have been fixed yet, which led to a sprint to the bathroom at the end.

We then headed to our second user interview session, this time in Kibera with Umande. We again met with users and non-users, and had the following new learnings:

  • open defecation is a pride issue (and men supposedly have a difficult time admitting to it)
  • The need for showers is not universal
  • people will sometimes destroy/vandalize toilets out of jealousy
  • awareness campaigns are very effective at convincing people that open defecation is shameful, and work well when coupled with a new toilet center opening
  • users are afraid that lower fees mean worse service/cleanliness at toilets

The day finished with a bit of Africa cup semifinals and a lukewarm beer.

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