Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Building a latrine

Now that you've heard a little about the people of Sierra Leone, I've got a confession to make... I based it on what we've been told of the people in Old Yam's Farm Warf, the village we spent two weeks working in.  For our Gateway Field Service, we were asked to help build a latrine, run a VBS (Vacation Bible School) and anything else medical that would help the people. 
This village was chosen for a special reason, they were already trying to help themselves.  Why is that important?  Because if people don't see a need for change, they won't change.  If you don't think you need a new and better latrine, you won't use the one that's built, and it won't make a difference in your community.  One of the things we learnt in Gateway is how often short-term missionaries go into communities with great goals, but forget to ask the community what they want.  And in the end, many wells go unused because no one knows how to maintain or fix them.  Hospitals get built but no one trains workers or makes sure that they have money to pay workers.  And so we went to a community that were so eager to have a latrine, they had already started the work themselves...
Here's the hole they dug (Ryan,  the one who helped to arrange this project, went in before we got there and made sure that the hole they had dug two years ago - even though they didn't have the resources to complete their project -was the right size and the walls were straight. But the point is, the community did it.)

And this is the toilet they had for the school/church.  Walls of palm branches, dirt floor, hole in the ground (filled with maggots less than two feet from the top of the hole.  Not sanitary, not very private.)  We used it for the two weeks we worked there... at least, those who couldn't hold their bladder for an 8 hour day used it.  Some of us got away without using it, some conquered fears by using it.  One person... met a chameleon... in the bathroom...

But I digress.  The thing is, the community wanted to have their school recognized by the government, and to do so, they needed to have a proper latrine.  So they did what they could, and stopped when they ran out of funds.  Two years later, along comes our group ready and willing to help.  Ryan had the plans and told us what to do (I'm using "us" loosely here, as I didn't really do much with the latrine project, I was busy elsewhere, but that's the subject of another blog...).  First step, mix cement, by hand. 
The villagers were ready and eager to help, and we definitely encouraged this, as it meant they could take ownership of the project.  It wasn't something built by white men (and women), rather it was something they did for themselves, with a little help.  If they consider it to belong to them, they're more likely to care for it and maintain it.
The cement was used as the foundation in the bottom of the pit, and was moved there by bowls, passed from person to person.
Little by little, blocks are placed and things start to come together.

Frames are built for the large concrete slabs, and holes are carefully made in certain spots.

Sand is moved and filtered through a loose mesh... I think they used it for the concrete, but don't quote me on that.

The inside of the latrine goes up bit by bit, and once everything is made to specifications, it's time to put a top on it...

Concrete is not light, and it takes many men to move it.

No sooner did they have the concrete slabs in place, than it started to rain... I'm talking pouring rain, by the bucket!
And so up went the tarp to cover it.
Little by little, over the next couple of days the walls went up.

Until in the end, there was a 3-stall latrine finished and ready to be used.

They painted it last week, and cleaned up the work space in front of the school a bit too.  Here's the final product:


Andrea Schmid said...

Awesome job on this, Heather!!! May I copy it? (HA!) Would save me a lot of work, and I could not have done it any better for sure. Miss you!


Heather said...

Please feel free to copy or link to it, just give credit where credit is due! :D Glad you like it. I have one more night shift to go, so I hope to write more about Yam's Farm.

alicia said...

Wow. Well said. Love the photos too. I sure miss you and hugs!