At Nuru we recognize that improved sanitation is a critical part of our holistic integrated model to end extreme poverty.  Diseases associated with poor sanitation are particularly correlated with poverty and infancy and alone account for about 10% of the global burden of disease (WHO, 2008).

As our partner CAWST says:

“Safe water, hygiene practices and sanitation are three of the primary drivers for improving public health. Extensive research and numerous evaluations have demonstrated that simply improving water supplies may have limited impact on improving people’s health. However, improving sanitation and safely disposing of excreta can have a marked effect, and can reduce incidence of diarrhea by 36% or more. The greatest reductions in diarrheal incidence are possible when sanitation improvements are combined with improved hygiene practices and improved water supplies and water quality.”

In some communities where Nuru works less than half of the households have latrines. A typical local latrine is a hole in the ground surrounded by maize stalks or sacks. Many children and adults practice open defecation- they use the forest or bush as a toilet.  And local latrine-owners report fears about safety- many latrines collapse after big rains and people fear their children will fall in. These fears drive more people to use the bush as their toilet.

Families often say that they would like to have a safe latrine, but they just can’t afford it.  The truth is that even inexpensive upgrades could make a big difference in their lives.  And, the irony is that although the few expensive ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrines in the areas where Nuru is working look like nice enough structures from the outside, but they often have unsafe pits and concrete slabs are quite weak. Yet, these types of latrines require a lot of costly materials.

At Nuru we want to offer people an affordable way to move up the “sanitation ladder” and change from open defecation to using a decent pit latrine that they can then convert into a ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine by adding a concrete slab and a vent pipe as they can afford to do so.  We have learned that there are certainly fantastic construction resources and skills that already exist in the community, but there is a lack of knowledge about how to mix up strong concrete and dig a safe latrine pit.  Fortunately, we discovered that our partner Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) offers a training event that focus on empowering local leaders to master these two critical components for building safe latrines.

So, we invited CAWST to come out to the Kuria District of Kenya where Nuru is currently working to host a Low Cost Latrine Workshop, and we invited a few other organizations to join us.  It was the very first time Nuru hosted an event of this type, and we learned a lot and had a great time!  Twelve Nuru staff members and twelve leaders from communities and organizations all over Kenya including leaders from Aquaclara, CIFA, GGA, Swallow, and Water for All met in Isibania, Kenya to learn how to construct affordable latrines.

During the workshop:

We got comfortable talking about POOP– We shared the many euphemisms for poop as discussed above and used these words freely throughout training. Afterall, you can’t address a problem until you name it, right?

We learned that safe latrines can be built at LOW COST– We learned how to build reinforced rectangular slabs and dome slabs (no reinforcement required) that require less materials than and half the cost of the local slabs here in Kuria.

We gained new PERSPECTIVES– Our eyes were opened to the sanitation challenges faced by the many regions and tribes of Kenya represented at the training and the innovative ways their being addressed.  For example, our friends at GGA have found that used oil barrels work well for lining latrine pits, and our friend with CIFA shared with us that above-ground latrine pits work well in northern Kenya where the groundwater table is high.

We got our hands DIRTY– We all joined in to sieve sand and stone (we learned that 1 to 2 mm maximum sand size and 0.5 to 1 inch aggregate work best), mix concrete and pour latrine slabs.

We acquired critical KNOWLEDGE– Nuru staff members became convinced that the local mix is weak due to the large amounts of sand and water, and it’s more expensive than the very strong “dry mix” (1 parts cement + 2 parts sand + 4 parts aggregate + just enough water to moisten the mix- no soup!) we learned to make.  We learned that circular pits are stronger than rectangular pits. And, our team realized that poor pit design and allowing bathing water to enter the pit (latrines and bathrooms are often built side-by-side over the same pit) could be reasons why local latrines are collapsing.

We got INSPIRED– After learning about how important good sanitation is for good health and how safe latrines can be affordable for their neighbors, our Water and Sanitation staff members are eager to get out into their communities and start helping their neighbors build safe, low cost latrines!