September 2012 Newsletter: Where's the restroom?
Every morning across Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, SOIL toilet managers wake up early to unlock the SOIL public toilets in their communities and make sure they’re clean and stocked with toilet paper and shredded peanut husks or sugar cane (used to “flush” an eco toilet). Throughout the day these toilets will be used by more than 6,000 people who would otherwise have no access to sanitation services.
The majority of international groups building toilets in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake have long since closed the toilets that they built or left them under the care of the community in which they were located. But with no one designated to keep the toilets clean and no one around with the financial resources to arrange waste collection and treatment, the toilets quickly broke down or overflowed. Driving around Port-au-Prince today, you can still see many of these toilets: long since boarded up or overturned, located at the edges of tent cities, leaving entire communities with no restroom.
As you well know, SOIL has a long history of doing things that other organizations don’t (or won’t or can’t) do in Haiti, and our public toilet program is no exception. We find it unconscionable to close the doors on these toilets until better alternatives can be arranged, yet month after month we struggle to keep them open as no easy fixes are available. Last month we sent out an emergency appeal asking for help making it through until our next grant check arrived and we were flooded with emails and support from around the world. Within a week we raised $10,000 and we were able to keep our sanitation program going through our cash flow emergency. Thanks to your support, we happily watched the Poopmobile revving up for its weekly rounds and public toilet managers stopping by the SOIL offices to pick up toilet paper and supplies, and, most importantly for their families, their paychecks.
This comes at a cost for SOIL. Even though our EcoSan toilets are less expensive to maintain than most other public toilet options in Haiti (check out this cool graph from our 2011 market study), we still have to raise over $1,300 weekly to buy toilet paper and cleaning supplies, pay toilet managers and keep the Poopmobile running. This comes out to be less than $1 per person per month to provide complete sanitation services – an amazing achievement! – but no funder wants to pay for a long-term aid project with no end in sight. And, even more importantly, SOIL staff don’t want to continue a project that is necessarily impermanent, and not ultimately contributing to our goal of building long-term sanitation solutions in Haiti.
The good news is that we have some exciting plans in the works to overcome this problem. Whenever possible, we support local camp organizations, Haitian NGO’s and international groups in their efforts to build long-term housing solutions. We have also begun to transition from managed public toilets to communal toilets where a few households share a key (and the maintenance responsibility) for a semi-private toilet. In order to switch over to communally managed toilets, there needs to be sufficient space in the camp for additional facilities so that a few families can smoothly share their semi-private toilet. This is not always possible, but we are moving in this direction wherever we can. Our final, and most exciting, step away from public toilets is our new pilot program to test a sustainable business model for providing private household toilets. We will be sending updates about our private household toilet project in the coming months as we refine our toilet design and improve our systems for toilet maintenance and waste collection. We expect great things!
But until then, if you drive around Port-au-Prince or cross the bridge by Shada Cap-Haitien, you might just pass a SOIL employee checking off toilet drum numbers on their clipboard on the edge of a community where, thanks to your support, the people do not need to worry about where to find a restroom.
With love from SOIL Haiti,
- We’re hoping to fully fund the public toilet program for an entire year by participating in Global Giving’s September Open Challenge. We have to raise $4,000 from more than 50 individual donors by the end of September to secure a permanent place on Global Giving. If everyone on this email gives $10.. we’ll be there!
- SOIL is collaborating with a group of grassroots organizations in Haiti to call for housing rights for the 400,000 people still homeless after the 2010 earthquake. Sign the petition.
SOIL Updates and Fun:
- SOIL launches a campaign with Trees, Water, People to plant 10,000 trees in Haiti. Read all about it!
- SOIL staff now use smartphones to track compost temperature and waste collection metrics. Read more about SOIL’s increased efficiency thanks to technology (and smart Stanford friends)!
- An EcoSan experiment to try in your own garden: fertlize your plants with pee!
- Check out more beautiful public toilet photos by Vic Hinterlang (and see our cost comparison graph) on our Flickr page.
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