Serving Her Community Through Fresh Life: Paulina Gathoni’s story
As a retired voluntary health worker, Paulina Gathoni has been involved in many health projects across Nairobi County and within Mukuru Kayaba, where she has lived for over 20 years. She deeply understands the sanitation struggles of her community and the challenges that come with interventions offered by health organizations.
“Our community members have been diligent in all other activities except their own personal and household hygiene,” she says. “Ten years ago there were barely any toilets in my area.” The nearest toilet was about 150 meters away from her neighborhood. To access it, she and her neighbors had to cross the River Kayaba, which women and children would not do at night for security reasons.
“Flying toilets were the order of the day,” Paulina says. As the population increased, the environment became critically polluted, and people began building temporary structures by the riverside as an alternative to flying toilets. These were an improvement in the short term but not sustainable particularly as the stench became increasingly intolerable.
Very concerned by the proliferation of untended waste in her community, Paulina established a Fresh Life Toilet over a year ago after her daughter introduced her to the program.
“Sanitation is slowly taking shape in our area,” Paulina says optimistically. At present, she says people have embraced and appreciate the toilets around them. Despite the fact that the majority of residents struggle to make ends meet, their highest priority is ensuring that their children have access to better sanitation.
Over the last three years, several Fresh Life Operators have established toilet businesses to serve the large population of Kayaba. Paulina is proud to have joined the Fresh Life movement, contributing to her community through her Fresh Life Toilet.
The business has not only been a source of income for Paulina’s family, but has also provided a great service to her community. Paulina opens her toilet as early as 5:30am and closes as late as 10:30pm, so that she can offer her customers – especially women and children — easy and safe access to a clean and hygienic toilet throughout the day.
“Most of my neighbors do not have a steady income. They depend on casual jobs which sometimes are not available,” Paulina says. She often offers discounted prices for her customers when they cannot pay full price.
Now 63 years old, Paulina has motivated many young people in her area. Her daughter Elizabeth, inspired by her mother’s work, is now a volunteer with the Ministry of Health. During her free time, she helps her mother run the Fresh Life Toilet.
As a landlord, Paulina knows the difference Fresh Life Toilets can make to a community and to a housing plot. She hopes other landlords will learn from her example and be inspired to include toilets when building houses to rent, and we do, too!