World Toilet Day 2016: FLO Peter Mwangi extols the benefits of safe toilets
Access to a toilet whenever and wherever one needs it ensures greater dignity, safety, health and equality for men, women and children. At Sanergy, investing in toilets and a sustainable model for waste management has been at the core of our work for the last five years.
While celebrating this year’s World Toilet Day, themed “Toilets and Jobs,” we are ecstatic that our work has had immense impact in Nairobi’s informal settlements. As we mark our fifth anniversary, we now have an active network of 850 Fresh Life Toilets, run by 500 Fresh Life Operators and serving almost 40,000 people every single day! These Fresh Life Operators have further created jobs for 200 other community residents.
In light of this, we spotlight Fresh Life Operator Peter Mwangi. He is fondly known to his neighbors as “Buda,” indicative of his position as a father figure in his community. He has lived in Mukuru Kwa Reuben for 38 years and was in the toilet business even before Fresh Life Toilets were launched in his community.
“When I first moved to Mukuru, the majority of land was untamed: wild grass, bushes and scarce residences. The population here began growing in the 1980s even though Mukuru’s land was designated as personal property,” recalls Peter. Most houses people put up were temporary due to frequent demolitions of any unauthorized structures on the land.
Because the majority of residents did not have an alternative, they lived in uncertain and squalid conditions. During this time, the sanitation situation was even worse; there was not even a single toilet in the area, so Peter and his neighbors had no choice but to relieve themselves in the surrounding bushes. “This was dangerous for women, especially at night, as they risked being attacked,” Peter recalls.
To reduce the risks faced during open defecation, people resorted to flying toilets – defecating in polythene bags, which are then thrown on the village pathways, waterways, and rooftops.
Disconcerted with the lack of safe sanitation options, Peter decided to consult with the local government and community on the possibility of constructing a toilet for communal use.
The response was enthusiastic; Peter was encouraged to launch the first pit latrines in the area. “I hired some youths to manage the toilets’ operations. For every use, they charged customers a fee of three shillings, which helped them carry out maintenance work such as cleaning the facility.”
Many more residents built pit latrines in the area, but maintaining hygiene standards in them was challenging. The majority would clog up during the rainy season, exposing the community to hygiene-related illnesses.
“The launch of Fresh Life Toilets in Mukuru Kwa Reuben heralded a new dawn for this settlement, and a lot has changed with regards to sanitation!” Peter exclaims.
In 2013, Peter transitioned to Fresh Life Toilets by launching three toilets. The community in Mukuru Kwa Reuben loved the facilities, and business was soon booming for Peter! He added three more units in Kamkunji, aiming to serve a bigger customer base.
Today, Peter has an average customer base of 200 visitors daily with customers ranging from tenants in his rental units, entrepreneurs of Mukuru Kwa Reuben and Kamukunji, and even passersby. He charges them a small fee between five and ten shillings per use, thereby earning an income of a thousand shillings cumulatively every single day.
Peter does not manage these enterprises by himself; he has employed four youths in the area to help him. “I am proud to create jobs for youths. These opportunities go a long way in curbing crime and other illicit activities youth engage in for their livelihoods,” he beams.
He has been a role model and mentor to many youths aiming to venture in the Fresh Life business. “Besides linking them with the Fresh Life team to launch their facilities, I always advise entrepreneurs to treat all customers respectfully, conduct thorough site research before installing their Fresh Life Toilets, and aim to operate their toilets for longer hours to allow customers as much access as possible.”
Peter is also a member of the Fresh Life Operators Advisory Board, working with Fresh Life to improve the operational support we offer our Fresh Life Operators.
Being in the network for three years now, Peter had learnt and achieved a lot. “I have been able to meet the basic needs of my family and more: I’ve even been able to raise money for two of my daughters to go to college!”
In addition, he says he has learnt that access to toilets has the power to grow economies. “When entrepreneurs have access to a toilet near them, they open their businesses for longer hours in a day,” he notes.
And just as Sanergy is serving more residents by entering Ngara, a new area of Mukuru, Peter is also expanding his network! Currently he has secured land for four new Fresh Life Toilets in the area.
“I can’t wait for my new toilets to be up and running!” he exclaims.
World Toilet Day is celebrated the world over on 19th November. It is a day to raise awareness about access to toilets and sanitation by all.