50 Ways to Leave Your Waste

On Monday, the team traveled to Mathare 10, a section of the Mathare slum in East Nairobi. There, we joined Community Cleaning Services (CCS), the organization with which Ani spent a day over the summer cleaning toilets. Mathare 10 is located on the Nairobi River. And unfortunately, that’s where most of the waste goes, too.

As we descended through the maze-like paths from the highway to the river, we stopped by a variety of sanitation options. The most impressive one was a sewer-connected toilet that CCS initially cleaned on World Toilet Day in November. Since witnessing the effect of a hygienically cleaned toilet, the owner of the facility has been purchasing CCS cleaning supplies and now she runs a small, sparkling business.

The toilet operator’s newly sparkling business.

That was, though, the only clean or hygienic facility we visited during our afternoon in Mathare. Typically, we saw small, slowly moving streams of water that trickled down to the larger, equally stagnant river. The streams, which our community guide called “trenches,” had sanitation facilities built over them. These facilities ranged from private squat toilets to planks of wood where one plank was missing. Through that gap, people defecate.

In the gap between the planks, people defecate into the stream below.

Despite these latrine options, we observed plenty of evidence of open defecation. Because everyone knows that the sanitation facilities send their waste downstream through the trenches, why not – if no-one is looking – openly defecate and save yourself a few shillings? Additionally, the nearest toilet can be a long, potentially dangerous walk once night falls.

Floodplain Reality

We are here in the dry season. The streams are barely flowing. In the wet season, the trenches overflow onto the paths and into people’s homes. Naturally, the waste overflows too, rendering all of these sanitation facilities ineffective. The Sanergy toilet is specifically designed so that the waste can be easily collected and then transported to a central biogas conversion facility, thereby eliminating the waste from water, from the paths, and from eyesight.

Gumba’s one toilet sits next to the river-side market.

Within each slum, there are villages. We visited one village called Gumba, which hugs the river so tightly that nearly the entire village sits in a floodplain on which it is illegal to settle. However, Gumba is home to a busy clothes market as well as a densely packed community – but only one toilet. And, as you can see, it’s no more than four posts and a patchwork of tarps. The user simply defecates into the stream below, and their waste gets washed away into the river.  All along the river bank where we walked, fresh lumps of waste dotted the ground. It felt a bit like playing Hop Scotch as we navigated our way through the area.

Open defecation in the trenches.

Urban Community-Led Total Sanitation

We also met with a handful of facilitators who had participated in the triggering phase of Community Cleaning Solutions’ Urban Community-Led Total Sanitation process, the same program that we will be using to raise awareness about hygienic sanitation and thereby generate demand for Sanergy toilets as one solution. Although a slight majority of the facilitators are women, three of our guides were middle-aged men, Village Elders who walked with a gait which suggested that others respected them and that they knew their way around these slums. They attended the triggering sessions, along with 50+ people, which are designed for the community to first acknowledge that there is a need for sanitation. The next step is then to get people to come up with their own unsubsidized solutions for the community. The three men also joyfully exclaimed the need to end open-defecation. Now, they were in search of good alternatives. Given all that we saw today, Sanergy’s toilets might be a great fit: impermanent enough to be moved if absolutely necessary but with the look and feel of permanence, simple enough construction to deploy easily even in areas far from roads accessible to cars, and compact enough to fit in tight places.



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