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

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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Algate has been part of the SOIL team since 2012. She originally had a 1-month trial contract, which turned into years of dedicated contribution to SOIL’s mission. Because of her positive energy, tireless commitment to community engagement and education, and increased responsibility in the EkoLakay program, SOIL Cap-Haitien honored Algate as the employee of the month in January 2016!

I interviewed Algate to see what drives her to work so hard to improve sanitation in her community. She doesn’t say so in the interview, but she brought in a whopping 227 new EkoLakay household toilet clients in 2015. Be sure to watch the song she composed for EkoLakay after reading the interview!

Algate marketing EkoLakay in Avyasyon

What is your position in SOIL?

I work SOIL as the Hygiene Promoter and Sanitation Coordinator Assistant. I’m the one who does trainings with people to show them how to use SOIL toilets in a hygienic way. I do marketing as well.

What is your typical day at work like?

I work in the field doing door-to-door visits at clients’ houses to talk to them about how to use their EkoLakay toilet well. And for people who don’t have toilets, I try to get them interested in our system and install an EkoLakay toilet in their home. There are some clients that are really happy when I show up at their house to install a toilet. They congratulate me and they congratulate SOIL. I really appreciate that feeling.

What brought you to work with SOIL?

I love SOIL’s work in Haiti because our country has had a lot of public health problems. Diseases spread because human waste is not contained or treated. SOIL’s work is important in Cap-Haitien because people in Cap-Haitien openly defecate, there’s no sanitation, and these are very unhygienic conditions.

150701 Prof Vic cap avyasyon frantz tilajan algate sign gps hht gcc

If a lot of people in Okap have toilets, there would be more cleanliness and people could live healthier lives. I would be really happy if SOIL could make an even bigger impact in Haiti so that we can finally resolve the preventable diseases that Haitians come in contact with every day.

Check out Algate’s song!

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Lovenie Charles and her family
Lovenie Charles and her family

It’s World Toilet Day! Around 2.5 BILLION people around the world don’t have access to a safe toilet, which is why diarrhea and other waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death for children under five.

Today we are celebrating World Toilet Day by increasing our efforts to expand access to dignified toilets through outreach events in the communities where we work. 

We believe that sanitation is a basic human right, and we look forward to promoting this vision in solidarity with the 2.5 billion people around the world who do not have access to a toilet. We commit to follow our vision through the ups and downs, not only for the larger cause but also for our individual customers on a day-to-day basis.

Lovanie Charles, an EkoLakay customer in Cap-Haitien, told us: “We want more toilets, more protection. If we have more toilets in this neighborhood, we’ll have more environmental protection against disease.”

So this November, while you’re reflecting on all that makes you grateful, don’t forget to include your toilet on the list! And we continue to be so grateful for your support as we work to make safe, dignified sanitation accessible for everyone.  

New household toilets under construction
New household toilets under construction
Herlande and Marion's #WorldToiletDay #unselfies
Herlande and Marion's #WorldToiletDay #unselfies


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Location: Sherburne, New York - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SOILhaiti
Project Leader:
Eliza Parish
Sherburne, New York United States
$54,420 raised of $75,000 goal
598 donations
$20,580 to go
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