It’s hard to believe that less than a hundred years ago close to half of American homes did not have access to piped water, a bathtub or a flushing toilet. Today these innovations are commonplace in homes across America, and to consider using the bathroom outside one’s home is hardly conceivable.
In Haiti, however, open air defecation continues to be a common practice*. The problem with relieving oneself in the open, rather than using a designated latrine, is that it is far from safe. Human waste near waterways and homes promotes the rapid spread of diseases that can pose real threats. In fact, diarrhea associated with poor hygiene and sanitation is one of the leading causes of child mortality in the country*. Using a toilet and washing one’s hands with soap are essential for people’s health and disease prevention.
Our staff in Haiti understands that getting the communities to shift this practice is a process. We have learned that it is more effective to show rather than tell people about the benefits of having a dedicated latrine for their home, and to wash their hands after using it. Additionally, we have learned that the communities are much more likely to actually use a latrine if they build it themselves instead of having it built for them.
How do we do it? Here are the stages that lead to a valuable transformation:
- Goal Setting
As part of our training process, our Animators engage the communities to let them determine their goals for their communities.
- Gathering Data
Each family takes the Animator on a tour of the area to learn how many families are in the community, the number of latrines available, and show their Animator the locations they use to go to the bathroom.
- Learning about Proper Sanitation and Hygiene
After estimating the amount of feces in the area, they gather all the villagers for a meeting to help them visualize the impact of open defecation.
The communities are asked where they think all of the poop is going. This question leads to a conversation about how these excretions circulate in various ways: through rainwater, flies and dirty hands. It is by no means a pleasant conversation, but it is crucial in showing them the value of having a designated latrine.
- Let the people be responsible for their own health
When the villagers see the value in making this change, they are more motivated to do so, and often they decide to build their own toilets with local materials and without outside funding.
The communities also come to understand that building a latrine is just one step towards being sanitary. They learn that they need to start washing their hands with soap and implementing other good hygiene practices into their daily routines.
* open air defecation = relieving oneself outside in any undesignated area
* causes of mortality in Haiti: http://www.healthdata.org/haiti