Introducing Edward Otieno, the first commercial FLO in Mathare
A resident of Mathare slum since 1979, Edward Otieno has seen a steady stream of sanitation solutions promising to clean up his neighborhood and improve community health. From makeshift pit latrines to public flush toilets, Edward and his neighbors have been disappointed by each one. However, Edward believes the newest answer is different, and he’s excited to be a part of the solution.
Born and raised in Homabay, Kisumu County, Edward moved to Mathare when he was 22, in search of a better job than he could get at home. “I settled in Mathare because it was the only place in Nairobi I knew back then, and I had friends who lived in the same area. I could also afford to pay my rent, buy food, and send some money to my parents in the village,” he says.
When he first arrived in Mathare, landlords were building housing units to serve the growing population, but they did not include toilets in their construction plans, so tenants were left to find their own sanitation solutions. The majority availed themselves of four public toilets that had been put up by the Nairobi City Government for residents to use, free of charge. However, “nobody was maintaining the facilities, which were dirty and constantly blocked,” Edward recalls.
As a result, most people preferred to use the bushes instead. “Some people used polythene bags and threw them away very early in the morning, while others took advantage of darkness to relieve themselves in alleys. The resulting environment was nothing short of disgusting! But we had no other choice, so we got used to it,” Edward says.
When the situation got worse and residents began contracting waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery, landlords set up makeshift toilets by the riverbanks, which they hoped would have the added benefit of improving the cleanliness of their compounds. These facilities were also free of charge, but they were unsafe to access at night, so the situation did not improve significantly.
In 1999, the Kenyan government then intervened by building another set of toilets, this time putting community leaders in charge of managing the facilities. This was the beginning of pay-per-use toilets in Mathare.
Currently, residents access these toilets at a flat rate of 5/= per use. “One challenge that my family and neighbors have faced over the years is that these toilets can be difficult to access, especially at night, and they are frequently closed, because of a lack of water,” says Edward. Because of these challenges, Edward decided to join the Fresh Life network early this year.
He owns 20 rental units, and for a long time his tenants and family could not access toilet facilities at night; they were not close by and were often closed as early as 9pm. So, in February of this year, he opened Mathare’s first commercial Fresh Life Toilet right outside his residential compound.
Now, his tenants access the toilet free of charge while neighbors pay a flat rate of 3/= per use. Edward’s peak time for business is between 8pm to 11 pm every day. “The fact that the toilet is clean at all times and it does not require water to flush, has attracted our neighbors,” Edward says.
This is a big step for us at Sanergy and our goal of scaling safe sanitation delivery in urban areas. Before Edward joined the Fresh Life network, all of our toilets in Mathare had been in schools and plots. However, Edward is part of a growing trend. “While there is need for improved sanitation in residential areas and schools within Mathare, we have seen numerous small-scale entrepreneurs demonstrate interest in investing in sanitation,” says Fresh Life Sales Manager, Churchil Ododa.
To encourage this trend, Fresh Life’s marketing team have ongoing campaigns to help entrepreneurs like Edward run a successful business in Mathare. “We carry out two main campaigns geared towards building community awareness and increasing toilet usage. These campaigns, known as market activation and recruitment drive campaigns, offer non-Fresh Life Toilet users a free opportunity to use Fresh Life Toilets, in hopes that they become regular customers,” says Peter Khaemba of the Fresh Life marketing team.
As more residents learn about Fresh Life Toilets, we’re excited to add to our 24 Fresh Life Toilets currently serving Mathare and to provide even more people with affordable and accessible safe sanitation options.