Women in WASH: Meet SOIL Research Partners

Though the stories often go untold, women have changed the trajectory of global history through their contributions to the field of science and technology.  As a women-led organization working to pioneer innovative ecological solutions to a tough global challenge, we are inspired by the legacy of women, both in the WASH sector and in STEM more broadly, who have come before us. We are also inspired daily by the incredible women who make up our team, either as full-time staff or as partners on research projects, whose ability to dream big and think boldly pushes SOIL further.

This summer SOIL had a variety of exciting studies underway, all of which were made possible by a cohort of researchers driven to optimize SOIL’s sanitation service and grow our impact. We have had the honor of working with them closely, but want to take the time to introduce them to you:

Michèle Heeb

SOIL Research Associate

Michèle, Tidou, and Sasha after Michèle’s first day at our northern Haiti compost site where she participated in container emptying with SOIL’s crew.

I’m an environmental scientist, specialized in water quality and water treatment. After working in research and later on for a water association and the Swiss government for several years, I wanted to shift my career a bit more in the direction of international cooperation. Last summer, I was accepted into program of continuing education, allowing me to broaden and complement my knowledge in development economics, politics and a lot of other topics relevant in the field of development cooperation. Part of this program is also a grant to go work abroad, which eventually brought me to SOIL and Haiti. 


First of all, I love the philosophy of SOIL of being truly connected with the local community, employing local staff, using local resources and speaking the local language. Secondly, I’m very passionate about sustainable sanitation and therefore working for SOIL is also professionally a good fit for me as I hope to help SOIL with my previous experience and knowledge and learning new things at same time. My expectations were more than fulfilled and I’m thrilled to be part of the SOIL family.

What are you researching?

I have a lot different projects underway with SOIL, but there are two main ones. The first is to analyze our current composting costs and find ways to make it more efficient in the future. A second project is to research alternative treatment options for SOIL to potentially use in combination with composting. Learn more about our study on the use of black soldier flies to transform waste into animal feed here!

What advice do you have for women and girls who want to join the field?

Just do what you are interested in and what you feel is good for you. Trust yourself. Don’t listen to other people on how you are supposed to lead your life, especially on what woman supposedly can or can not do. 

Dr. Rebecca Ryals

While many of the researchers we introduce you to in this blog started collaborating with SOIL this year, Dr. Ryals has been a long-time partner as we study the benefits of SOIL’s climate-positive solution. Learn more here.

Dr. Ryals hard at work at SOIL’s composting site in one of her visits in 2017.

I am a professor of agroecology at the University of California, Merced. Before that, I was a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a postdoc at Brown University. I got my PhD at UC Berkeley in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. I grew up in Pennsylvania, where my family still lives.

How did you find SOIL?

It is such a privilege to do collaborative research with SOIL. I met Sasha during my first year of graduate school, just before she founded SOIL. I was in awe that she could use her education and expertise in soil biogeochemistry to do something that so directly helps people and the environment. Several years later and with the help of a small grant, I was able to travel to Haiti for the first time and see SOIL’s work in action. The work that they are doing is incredible. They have found a way to provide dignified sanitation, while simultaneously restoring soils, improving food security, and contributing to climate change solutions. 

What are your researching?

In my lab, we use ecological approaches to research solutions to some of today’s most wicked problems – climate change, soil degradation, and sanitation. We are partnering with SOIL to better understand the climate benefits of container-based sanitation. Our goal is to quantify the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted during composting and the capacity for SOIL’s compost to sequester carbon, restore soil fertility, and increase crop production. We are also doing research to investigate whether or not pathogens leach into the environment during the composting process. 

What advice do you have for women and girls who want to join the field?
Build and use your network of mentors, and always remember that you are not alone. Work with people who inspire you and who will be your advocate. The world needs your voices, ideas, and perspectives. 

Dani Peguero

I have a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Davis and I recently completed a Fulbright fellowship in Durban, South Africa with the Pollution Research Group at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The main part of my Fulbright research was conducted in collaboration with The BioCycle, and focused on rearing black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) on varying types of organic waste and sanitation waste streams to best optimize BSFL production.

How did you find SOIL?

I was very excited to come partner with SOIL, as I really believe in their work with container based sanitation and the impact they’re having. I was also very excited to come work in Haiti, since both my parents are from Dominican Republic. The chance to do some awesome work on the other side of the island felt like a great idea to me.

What are you researching?

The goal of my research is to assist Michèle in the assessment of BSFL development in northern-Haiti’s tropical climate.

What advice do you have for women and girls who want to join the field?

Don’t let the idea that something might be “too hard” stop you from pursuing something you really want to do, you won’t know until you give it a try. Also, don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something, believe in yourself because that’s all that really matters.    

Froggi VanRiper

I am doing my PhD in environmental science at OSU, with a focus on sustainable sanitation.  I have a MS in Sustainable Development from Linköping, Sweden, where I studied the sustainability of phosphorus sources in agriculture.  This work drew my attention to the importance of resource recovery from human excreta.  (Also, I’m just naturally interested in poop!)  I replaced my home flush toilet with a urine-diverting dry toilet as soon as I could.

Froggi and the research team at SOIL’s office in Cap-Haitien

How did you find SOIL?

SOIL came to my attention when I was looking at sanitation solutions in post-disaster environments.  I was already a fan ofcontainer-based sanitation(CBS), and SOIL looked like an example of a well-designed model with a lot of success to show for their efforts.

What are you researching?

The current study I’m here for (I will be returning next year for another project) is a large-scale survey of current and former EkoLakay users to determine factors affecting people’s ability to remain on the service, factors affecting their sanitation access decisions, and whether exposure to a CBS system affects their ongoing sanitation habits.   

What advice do you have for women and girls who want to join the field?

It’s a great field it is to be in, because of the importance of sanitation solutions to gender equity, from girls’ and women’s personal safety to their access to education.  I suggest finding as many opportunities as possible to be involved in sanitation conversations locally, make connections to people in the field, and develop your personal knowledge so that you will be able to maximize the value and potential of the next stage of your experience (school; career; etc.). 

Many thanks to our researchers who keep us thinking bigger and exploring what is possible for SOIL in the years to come as we transform waste into resources in Haiti.

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