Poop With A Smile Project
Today in the world, 1 in 3 people (that is over 2.5 billion people worldwide) don’t have access to a safe, clean and private toilet and most of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Many deaths related to severe diarrhea today kills a child every 20 seconds, making it the second most deathly disease in developing countries claiming lives more that HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
Diarrhea is a leading cause of childhood mortality in developing countries, and the major cause is through the lack of clean and safe toilets. Since 2011, we have been working with primary schools by providing educational opportunities to children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and those living with disabilities but in the course of our work, we saw a constant pattern of school absenteeism and realized this was high due to ill health. Learning opportunities were lost as children spent much time looking for a safe place to defecate and urinate using the fields.
Our overall objective was to reduce the disease burden of cholera in children of school going age due to poor sanitation practices in the schools we work in. Open defecation, which is a common practice in schools, cost many children school days. School absenteeism was on the rise and the school retention rate was on the decline as many girls stayed away from schools because they had nowhere to go to when they were on their period.
We wanted to make sure children stay in school and learn in an environment that is safe and convenient for learning.
HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED
After we had laid down our objectives, we had series of meetings with the schools, community heads and the Parents Teacher Associations to ensure that everyone was on board and that it was a collective project with full ownership. We also worked closely with the local councils. The schools had identified the potential sites on which these toilets would be built and parents of children whose primary occupation was construction assisted with free labor such as molding of blocks, digging of the pit toilets as well as felling a tree for use as planks in roofing. We, for our part provided the rest of the materials needed for construction. What really caught my attention was the strong commitment by the community to see that their children can finally have a safe place to defecate and even after the toilets were officially handed over to the schools (3) in September of 2014 and (2) in September of 2015, they are the most cherished structures in these schools and the kids love using them.
The simple innovation we modeled during this campaign was to provide a space for the community to come together and decide if they needed a toilet in their schools or not. Sometimes we as international development experts fail to focus on the very small things, which we often neglect when working in communities. We must effectively engage them and listen to them about the problems they face and then work with them if we want to succeed in our work in communities and if we want them to take full ownership of the project after we leave.
School enrollment rate is up and school lateness is down.
Number of parents complaining about their sick children has significantly dropped. In our most recent preliminary findings, we found that children lost about 261 (72%) school days in 2014 before we built the toilets and after building these toilets this number dropped to 166 (45%) days accounting for a 27% reduction in number of school days lost over a one year period. Open defecation is completely non-existent and ventilation has improved.
Teachers now spend more time in school with children, stay longer to prepare lesson notes rather than going to neighbors' compounds to use the toilet. Parents have started digging their own toilets at home to mimic what schools have with pressure from the children. Teachers now spend more time in school with children, stay longer to prepare lesson notes rather than moving to neighbors compounds to use the toilet. Teachers are using the toilet as a practical lesson which facilitates learning.
Our greatest challenge was rallying the communities together. Even though they told us their kids were falling sick from diarrhea they still didn't understand it was because the kids were defecating in the bushes and in the process would carry germs; and the poor hygiene in schools made things even worse. However, the teachers were very resourceful in helping pass across this message to these mothers and fathers who still believed it was normal for their kids to fall sick as part of child growth and development. Also, it was hard to get the local councils to buy into the idea. They were very skeptical of our work and they questioned our motive when we told them we just wanted to provide schools with access to clean and safe pit toilets. because to them anything free was not genuine but we made them understand that this project was to be a joint effort of each and every member of the community if it had to be successful
We learnt just how much we take this for granted in other parts of the world. One take away from this project was the fact that you don't need much to create change. Start somewhere and work in close collaboration with the communities and listen to them if you want the project to be successful. I also learnt that these communities don't need our sympathy but rather all they need is for us to show them love. We must therefore empower communities to develop and sustain livelihoods and all it takes is just passion. With these toilets they tell us how much change we have brought to their lives. They now feel empowered and live with dignity with no fear of been harassed or raped. Its just amazing how a simple thing like building a toilet can transform an entire community to the extent that children are now forcing their parents to build similar toilets in their homes and parents are coming to school to thank us for the work we have done to lift them from shame,