World Toilet Day 2018
Peace Corps Volunteer Alex Wang, a Maternal and Child Health Volunteer in Southern Rwanda, and his health center are in the process of building 25 latrines using a Peace Corps grant for at risk families. We sat down with him to find out more about the project.
Why latrines? What makes latrines so important to the community?
In my community, people sometimes suffer from diarrhea and parasites in large part because of unsanitary toilet access and a lack of hygienic practices. The toilets we see in community are mostly simple pit latrines. These latrines are holes dug a few meters down with some logs to cover the top and often there are no walls or roof. These shallow, partially covered latrines are highly unsanitary. Flies easily enter the pits, and move from feces to food, or surfaces that community members will touch. During the wet season, torrential rains overflow these latrines, which contaminate the water as well as the farm area around the latrine. These mechanisms, like flies, and contaminated water, can transfer harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites to other people and is known as the fecal-oral route.
Especially vulnerable to disease from the fecal oral route are children under two years. For example, diarrhea deprives children of nutrients necessary for growth and so, makes them more susceptible to further episodes of diarrhea. A downward spiral ensues, which leads to childhood stunting, malnutrition and in severe cases, death. In my district of Rwanda, childhood stunting rates are in excess of 40%. That means out of ten children aged two, at least four will have stunted development both physically and mentally. Sanitary toilets are important because they can serve as a barrier against diseases like diarrhea and its consequences.
How are the toilets being built different?
The toilets my health center and I are building are improved pit latrines. We cover the pits with concrete slabs and when not in use, the drop hole is covered by a wooden lid. Now flies won’t be able to get in. And we ensure that rainfall cannot enter the pit to flood the pits and surrounding areas. Also, we have dug the pits to a depth of 10 meters to maximize the usage of the latrine. However, it’s important to realize building these toilets is only the first step of the project.
Building these latrines is a great action, but by themselves, they aren’t accomplishing enough. Hygiene and nutrition trainings will be given, and the families will be checked on to ensure they’re following the lessons. For example, my counterpart, Emmanuel, and I will be teaching how to construct hand washing stations and how to use them. The trainings would be followed up by home visits to see that the families are using their hand washing stations and making sure that the beneficiaries understand why washing their hands is important. Eventually the families themselves need to hold the responsibility for their own health. That’s the plan anyway. Emmanuel and I have a lot of hard work and plenty more home visits via bumpy motorcycle rides before we can accomplish our goal.