Good Business: Fresh Life
To celebrate World Toilet Day, 19 November, a day where the world raises awareness of the global sanitation situation, GOAL and Sanergy sat with Mama Faith to hear more about her sanitation business, which provides access to quality and hygienic toilets to people living and working in Mukuru, a slum of Nairobi.
Before ‘Mama Faith’ arrived in Mukuru, the area where we are currently sitting was covered with trash. No children played in the area for fear of stepping in a plastic bag that contained human faeces – a flying toilet, what is commonly used in the slums for a toilet. This was all destined to change though. In 2012, Mama Faith used a Fresh Life Toilet near to her house. She was so impressed with the cleanliness that, after getting pitched the business plan by Sanergy sales associates, she decided to invest in a Fresh Life Toilet.
The Fresh Life Toilet is a new type of toilet for people living in the slums, one that is clean, sanitary and easy to remove the waste from. Sanergy’s trained and properly equipped Fresh Life Frontline collects the waste every day from each facility. They take the waste to a processing plant where it is turned into manure for agriculture. The toilet that Mama Faith purchased was installed in September 2012. The toilet is a business for her; it is open to the public as a pay-per-use toilet every day between 6:30am and 9pm. Children pay 2 shillings (€0.02), while adults pay 5 shillings (€0.04) to use it.
Mama Faith described: “Before I came to this area, people were using flying toilets for sanitation. The area was very dirty and covered with plastic bags. When I built my toilet here, people were very happy because the area became clean. It is an ideal site because there are a lot of shops, food kiosks and businesses here, and people don’t have access to good sanitation.”
“At the beginning business was very bad. I think that it was bad because people didn’t know what to expect and because they were used to pit latrines or open defecation. And there is a pit latrine just across the way, so they chose to use that instead. But business has really changed. Most weekdays now, we get at least 30 customers per day, which is enough to break even on our business costs. But on the weekends, I can get 50 customers.”
For each use, customers pay Mama Faith, take some tissue and a scoop of sawdust. Mama Faith has also provided a place to wash hands with soap and water for use after the toilet. She always makes sure to tell customers to wash their hands after, so that if they eat, they will not get sick from contaminated food. “I turn a nice profit from the business, which allows me to save money, purchase things around the house, and repay my business loans. I have already paid back the loan for the land, and I have 1 month left on my loan for the toilet.”
“People like using Fresh Life Toilets because they don’t smell. They are always clean. Instead of using water to flush, it uses sawdust and urine and faeces don’t mix. So there is no smell. I like them because I do not have to worry about where I take the waste. Also, the operating cost is less than a pit latrine because I do not have to worry about exhausting it [removing the waste]. I also keep the area clean as a marketing strategy, to encourage people to come to use the toilet. Because they know I am here, people are now afraid to litter when I am here. But it is still a challenge to stop open defecation in the area, because people don’t want to pay for services. It is a challenge that I have not yet learnt how to solve.”
Although Mama Faith has identified that challenges still exist, she is proud of her investment, and sees it as positive for both her future and the future of the community. As she rightly shared, “The Fresh Life brand markets itself – when you enter a pit latrine, you leave smelling. But when you enter a Fresh Life Toilet, you leave fresh.”
By Angela Huddleston, GOAL Kenya Grants & Communications Manager
In the slums, where there is little space for many people and owning land is a challenge, people struggle with access to toilets. Instead they are forced to use flying toilets, defecate in the open, or pay to use community latrines that are often times not cleaned, that stink, that are not good quality, and are costly for both owners and users.
GOAL, Sanergy and the Kenya Water for Health Organisation (KWAHO), through the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, are working in partnership to improve sanitation in Mukuru through a marketing approach that focuses on increasing both the demand for high-quality sanitation and the supply of Fresh Life Toilets. By the end of the project, we expect that over 20,000 people living in Mukuru will use improved sanitation facilities, and even more will have received messages on proper hygiene practices.