Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti

Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti

We often ask our visitors to guest write a blog post for the SOIL website to give our readers a chance to see how SOIL’s work looks from different perspectives. After spending a day dumping poop buckets, recent SOIL visitor, Benjamin, had a lot to say about the concept of waste!

I visited Haiti for the first time this spring and I am just beginning to get my feet wet in the ocean of complex issues that the country faces. Therefore getting a chance to stop by SOIL and see their work in action was a fascinating experience! I spent the first morning of my SOIL visit volunteering at SOIL’s composting waste treatment facility near Cap-Haitien. I began by helping the workers to dump five-gallon buckets of poop into large containers where the waste will be sealed and allowed to undergo anaerobic decomposition in order to kill dangerous microbes and begin to break down the materials. Next we loaded the hundreds of buckets onto a cart and wheeled them over to be cleaned and dried in the sun. This process took the entire morning due to the sheer volume of waste that must be processed every day.

I was initially surprised and impressed by the vastness of SOIL’s facility, boasting mountains of compost in various stages. SOIL is creating value from a remarkably large amount of waste, but the reality is that Haiti is home to over 10.6 million people and Haiti does not have a central sanitation system. By even just serving a mere fraction of the population in Cap-Haitien, SOIL is already removing an enormous amount of waste that would otherwise pollute the water supply and pose a health hazard, and instead, transforming it into nutritious earth. Human waste can either be a valuable resource that promotes agriculture, reforestation, and health, or, it can be a malignant affliction, endangering public health.

Unfortunately, the issue of waste in Haiti—and the world—is far more expansive than just human waste. Waste seems inevitable in most everything we do, and this reality was clearly evident upon my arrival here. The shores of the sea and the ditches alongside roads seem to be designated landfills. The undeniably conspicuous trash presence serves as a potent and tangible reminder of the work that always remains to be done in all fields of waste reduction, management, and transformation.

How we perceive waste is dependent upon our mindsets. For some, waste is the end of the road, an unsavory byproduct of life. For others, it is a new beginning, a valuable opportunity to promote and foster growth, independence, and life.


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Madame Bwa and Algate - Champions for Change
Madame Bwa and Algate - Champions for Change

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BeBoldForChange. The World Economic Forum has predicted that the gender gap (which represents gender inequity in areas like health, wages, political representation, and access to and quality of education) won’t fully close until 2186 – 169 years from now.


Can we leverage International Women’s Day as a catalyst to foment bold change and reject this stark forecast?

At SOIL, women’s voices are at the forefront of our work. Four of SOIL’s seven organizational directors are women, including our executive director and co-founder Sasha, and three of the five SOIL advisors are women.  Throughout the operational team, women like Mme Bwa, Algate, and Fabienne take the lead in the field as professional and talented marketers, savvy businesswomen, and tireless sanitation ambassadors on top of being working mothers, grandmothers, midwives, nurses, teachers, gardeners, and so much more.

The women at SOIL are passionate about increasing access to holistic sanitation because we know how much access to sanitation improves other women’s lives. With a private household toilet, women and girls are safer, especially at night. 


If women don’t have to venture outside of the home to relieve themselves, their chance of being shamed, harassed, or even attacked decreases. When girls have hygienic bathrooms, they are more likely to go to school while menstruating. And when women don’t have to spend time finding a place for them and their children to go, they have more time overall, and their family is healthier and happier as a result.

In 2017, we pledge to #BeBoldForChange by continuing to talk past the sanitation taboo and fighting for every woman to have access to a safe and dignified toilet.

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SOIL has a history of participating in international days of recognition such as World Hand Washing Day (October 15) and World Toilet Day (November 19). Many of you have joined us in sharing your #Unselfies telling what sanitation means to you.

And while these holidays come around every year, the celebration is unique each time. This year, Hand Washing Day came in the wake of Hurricane Matthew as cholera cases started to spike up yet again. Most people know that the simple habit of hand washing can prevent waterborne diseases like cholera, but it can be easy to forget to wash up before eating a snack or touching your face (I’m sure many of us have already forgotten at least once today!). And so our focus this year has been leveraging the power of community to help effect change.

To reinforce the lifesaving importance of hand washing with soap, this year SOIL partnered with Oxfam and UNICEF as well as two government ministries: DINEPA, which manages Haiti’s water and sanitation, and MSPP, the agency in charge of public health to organize an event in recognition of World Handwashing Day and the importance of hygiene.

Collaboration between sectors and across organizations was a unique and special part of this year’s hand washing day. Oxfam came with a very entertaining and lively participatory theater troupe as well as a DJ who kept everyone dancing in between acts; MSPP representatives spoke passionately about protecting community health through sanitation and led a hand washing competition; SOIL provided hand washing stations and banners and told entertaining, yet serious anecdotes about health and sanitation. Together we held a morning event in the Cap-Haitien neighborhood of Petitans and in Fort St. Michel in the afternoon.Hygiene Education

As this was my first time participating in the planning that goes into these celebrations, I was surprised and proud to learn that SOIL is often the default choice for managing community relations when planning water and sanitation related events in and around Cap-Haitien. Having worked with SOIL for over two years, I have seen how much time and effort we put into relationship-building with clients, community-based organizations, and local leaders, but I hadn’t fully realized the impact our relationships could have beyond SOIL’s own activities.

A key part of our building strong relationships is community gatherings, which SOIL organizes and hosts regularly to ensure that we are staying in close communication and collaboration with our EkoLakay clients and with communities throughout Cap-Haitien. We provide local jobs and contracts with artists, musicians, carpenters, laborers, marketing agents, and event planners, in addition to hosting fun events like Global Hand Washing Day. And most importantly, we take the time to listen. As Sasha always says, even if you can’t resolve an issue, oftentimes just hearing someone out with an empathetic ear can provide some comfort.

All of this relationship building takes time, patience, and understanding. But these efforts pay off in that we have community buy-in and respect. It’s easy to take SOIL’s great relationships for granted, but when it comes time to plan a last minute event or respond to an emergency, it’s easy to see that SOIL is but a small seed in a larger ecosystem. We need other elements to help us grow and flourish, and we’re incredibly proud to be a part of this growing ecosystem.

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Thanks to an exciting new development, SOIL staff will soon be wandering through the streets, staring at excitedly at their cell phones. No, Pokemon Go isn’t coming to Haiti (yet) – but SOIL is going mobile!

After more than a year of research, we are moving forward with setting up a new data system for EkoLakay, SOIL’s household toilet service. From tracking a potential customer to client contracts, payments, and bucket collections, running the EkoLakay service generates a ton of important data. When we first started the service in 2011, we put all of that data in an Excel spreadsheet – and 700 customers and 6 interconnected documents later, we are more than ready for a more robust system!

But what kind of system turned out to be a challenging question to answer. We wanted a proper database to ensure that we could establish relationships between pieces of data: we wanted to be able to track payments in one place and bucket collections in another, but still be able to get a snapshot of both kinds of information for any given client. We also needed to be able to produce a wide variety of reports, such as a list of all prospective customers who need home visits, and analyze data in a user-friendly way.

At the same time, we are dealing with several constraints that ruled out many traditional business databases. For example, we need to be able to collect data and do the vast majority of our tasks offline, since connectivity isn’t always possible. In addition, few of our data collectors speak English, so we needed a system capable of translation.

We sorted through dozens of systems – and even thought about creating our own from scratch. But at long last, we found the right one. We’ll be piloting an Android application called Taroworks, which was developed a few years ago by the Grameen Foundation, an organization affiliated with the Nobel peace prize-winning microfinance institution. Since Taroworks was developed for offline “last mile” use, it has the flexibility we need; because it’s linked to SalesForce, one of the largest database systems in the world, it has the reporting, automation, and other database features that Fortune 500 companies use.

So now it’s game time! Customizing the database, designing our tasks, setting up the Creole translation key, and a host of other tasks need to be tackled before we’re ready to pilot it in the field, but it’s so exciting to finally have arrived at this point. It’s just a matter of time until SOIL’s staff take to the streets with their cell phones – but capturing new clients instead of Pokemons and Pikachus!

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Although nearly 75% of Haitians lack access to toilets, it’s not for lack of effort or attention by the Haitian government. Despite the fact that the sanitation authority (known by its French acronym, DINEPA) is relatively new, formed just prior to the earthquake in 2009, they have worked tirelessly to develop a National Sanitation Strategy in response to inadequate sanitation access and Haiti’s devastating cholera outbreak that began in 2011.

Haiti’s sanitation challenge has been in the implementation of the strategy, and sadly 5 years into the cholera outbreak hundreds of Haitians continue to die from the disease each year. To begin making inroads against this challenge, in May 2016 DINEPA and the World Bank convened over 100 sanitation experts and practitioners from both Haiti and abroad in Port-au-Prince to work on an actionable implementation plan at a four day conference, the “Dialogue Sectoriel de l’Assainissement 2016”, Haiti’s first ever national sanitation conference organized by the Haitian government.

SOIL was honored to be invited to play a large role in the conference, both by attending and presenting during multiple sessions. SOIL’s Director of Sanitation in North Haiti presented EkoLakay, SOIL’s household toilet service. The following day SOIL’s Director of Composting and Agriculture presented about SOIL’s waste treatment process, showcasing SOIL’s demonstrated ability to treat waste to safely destroy pathogens, and also to create a valuable and highly desired end-product – SOIL’s Konpos Lakay compost.

During breakout discussions, groups cited EkoLakay as the most appropriate sanitation solution for dense urban areas. In addition, leadership from DINEPA spoke many times about their excitement about composting and the valorization of waste, highlighting their upcoming collaboration with SOIL to compost DINEPA’s waste from the waste stabilization ponds.

This wasn’t only a chance to share SOIL’s work with an influential audience; it was also a chance to learn from other participants at the conference. We were particularly excited to have some extended time with a colleague from WSUP (Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor), an organization that has been running a business called Clean Team, a container-based sanitation service in Ghana. SOIL and Clean Team are often in close contact to share ideas and best practices, but getting to meet and discuss challenges in person was a rare treat. Our team was especially excited to see the sun roof on the Clean Team collection vehicles, so we can expect some improvements to SOIL’s fleet in the near future!

The World Bank Special Envoy in Haiti remarked  “Improving sanitation is everybody’s business… We cannot ignore the possibility of saving lives by improving access to sanitation and supporting this new national roadmap” (“Building Toilets And Changing Behaviors Can Save Lives in Haiti,” The World Bank).  We are grateful for the chance to share SOIL’s work and contribute to collaborative solutions for Haiti’s sanitation crisis.

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Organization Information


Location: Sherburne, New York - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SOILhaiti
Project Leader:
Eliza Parish
Sherburne, New York United States
$49,536 raised of $75,000 goal
483 donations
$25,464 to go
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