Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti

by SOIL
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

SOIL just wrapped up its fiscal year last month and we ended on a high note with 73 EkoLakay toilet installations in July alone. That’s more toilets than we had previously installed during any month this year!

The majority of these new customers live in two densely populated urban areas in Cap-Haitien: Nan Bannann, a relatively new service area for EkoLakay, and Fort Saint Michel, a nearby neighborhood where SOIL has been working for several years. We don’t have precise data on sanitation coverage in these neighborhoods, but local community-based organizations estimate that over 80% of people don’t have access to a toilet.

Alexandra, a new EkoLakay customer in Cap-Haitien.

As our team installed the new toilets, we had a chance to get to know the families that are beginning to use EkoLakay’s service. What did we learn? Unfortunately, though not surprisingly,  that figure that local organizations report for access to improved sanitation in these neighborhoods in Cap-Haitien (80%) turned out to overestimate the previous sanitation coverage for the new EkoLakay customers. Though it’s not necessarily representative of the neighborhood at large, of the 72 households that joined in July, an alarming 88% of people reported that they hadn’t had access to a toilet before EkoLakay. In these neighborhoods, 80% of the families that now have an EkoLakay composting toilet in their home lack access to running water.

This looks a little different in the slightly more affluent neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Ti Plas Kazo, where we also installed toilets in July. In a recent satisfaction survey, EkoLakay customers in this neighborhood reported that what they liked most about their EkoLakay toilet was that they are able to save money. For them, this was possible because they no longer need to buy the water that was necessary to flush their old toilets, nor do they need to pay for waste removal by Haiti’s underground latrine cleaners.

For community members of Nan Bannann and Fort Saint Michel, however, beginning to use EkoLakay’s service costs 200 Haitian gourdes (just over 3 USD) that they hadn’t previously had to pay each month because they didn’t have a toilet to flush, period. Without an in-home toilet, families were forced to go in a bag (a “flying toilet”) or use a nearby ravine or empty lot, often in the early hours of dawn when some discretion was possible. That waste contaminated the environment, including the groundwater that people use for bathing, washing, and cooking food. Now, not only will safety risks for these families be mitigated, the resources of that waste will go back to the earth as safe and organic compost.

While saving money is not the motivation for these urban Cap-Haitien residents to sign up for EkoLakay, there are many other reasons why they are willing to pay for sanitation in this precarious context. Almost a quarter of the new customers in Nan Bannann and Fort Saint Michel shared that they joined to protect their families. Alexandra, pictured above, is one of our new customers. After having an EkoLakay toilet in her home for just over a month now, she is excited to share that “EkoLakay is helping my family! We didn’t have any other options before, and we love the service.”

Families like Alexandra’s who are willing to make the sacrifice to pay for EkoLakay each month are testaments to the transformative power of access to a dignified, safe in-home toilet. SOIL is currently carrying out extensive research in our Cap-Haitien service areas, where we hope we will gain more insight into what else motivates families to sign up for EkoLakay, as well as how we can continue to grow the feelings of pride that come with making a positive impact for one’s family and one’s entire community.

We’re using the momentum of our record-breaking July to start our new year off strong. If you hadn’t heard the news, in addition to trying to beat our July installation record, we’re busy building on to our composting site in Cap-Haitien to increase our capacity to treat and transform the waste from these new EkoLakay toilets. Here’s to continuing to expand access to sanitation and to even more EkoLakay installations next month!

To support SOIL’s work to provide EkoLakay toilets so that families like Alexandra’s have access to safe and dignified sanitation, please consider making a donation today.

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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.

Fabienne

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. 

Ludnie

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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Organization Information

SOIL

Location: Sherburne, New York - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SOILhaiti
Project Leader:
Eliza Parish
Sherburne, New York United States
$51,118 raised of $75,000 goal
 
525 donations
$23,882 to go
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