Fresh Life Toilets Come to Malezi

Miss the previous update about Malezi? Read it here.

Located directly behind the Malezi Centre, you will find these makeshift toilets.

Few problems affect so many in such a profound manner as poor sanitation. It is estimated that
2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to a safe, functioning toilet.
— Dr. Val Curtis, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

They are situated on the bank of the Nairobi river, which doubles as a sewer system and waste dumping site in this slum called Kitui Ndogo. Inside the near pitch black toilet stall, there is a hole in the ground made of wonky wooden planks, which funnels waste directly into the river without any form of treatment.

These toilets are currently the only option for the children of the Malezi School. They are unsanitary and riddled with urine, fecal matter, and maggots. The structures are crudely constructed and can easily collapse. And, a small child can easily fall into the hole where you squat. To the say the least, they are not suitable for young kids.

These toilets are also not free to use. The two men you see above charge between five and ten Kenyan Shillings ($.05 - $.11 USD) per use depending on the nature of your visit. Because of this, the vast majority of people — including the children — do not use toilets because they are too expensive, which has plagued this community with hazardous sanitation issues given the public urination and open defecation that results.

   Polluted pathway with a flying toilet in Kitui Ndogo slum.

Polluted pathway with a flying toilet in Kitui Ndogo slum.

Ever hear of a "flying toilet?" Say those words while walking through a Nairobi slum and you are sure to get a laugh. In lieu of toilets, many slum dwellers defecate in small plastic bags, tie the ends together and hurl them away wantonly. You have to watch out, as you can be struck in the head by one.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 800,000 children under the age of five die each year from diarrhoeal infections. What's going on here in Kitui Ndogo is the reason why. Children do not have strong enough immune systems to fend off the harmful bacteria they are exposed to regularly nor the ability to afford medical treatment when they get sick.

   Nairobi river doubling as waste dumping site.

Nairobi river doubling as waste dumping site.

Fresh Life Toilets: Moving Toward Solution

   Sanergy designs and manufactures high-quality toilets for urban slums.

Sanergy designs and manufactures high-quality toilets for urban slums.

   Interior of a Sanergy "Fresh Life" toilet.

Interior of a Sanergy "Fresh Life" toilet.

Sanergy is a social enterprise based in Nairobi backed by the Acumen Fund. They work to address the sanitation issues common in urban slums and have created an innovative and sustainable business model to do so.

Sanergy designs and manufactures low-cost/high-quality "Fresh Life" toilets, which are easy to clean, maintain, and include hand washing facilities. After your purchase, the toilets are professionally and securely installed by Sanergy employees.

Local operators, from the host community, are carefully selected and charged with caring for the toilets, as well as responsibly collecting money (it is common in Nairobi to pay for toilet use, even in public spaces). In effect, the operators become franchise partners of Sanergy and are regularly coached and assisted with business and marketing matters.

Each day, Sanergy workers visit to safely remove the waste from each toilet, which is then brought to a treatment facility, converted into organic fertilizer, and ultimately sold to farmers at a considerably cheaper rate than that of synthetic fertilizers. This being the crux of their sustainability model.

   The Sanergy sustainability model.

The Sanergy sustainability model.

This model, it goes without saying, is a vast improvement over the existing "flying toilet" model.

It very effectively works toward cleaning up slum environments and mitigating easily preventable diseases. It provides dignified employment. It creates a reusable product, which helps farmers and prevents the use of costly and toxic synthetic fertilizer.

We'll Take Two

Again, the toilets must be purchased, they are not freely given to needy communities. One costs around $750. The average daily income of a slum dweller is $1/day. Money isn't going to come from inside a community or the government for that matter—it must come from NGOs or other supporting agencies like Living Smile.

The toilets will further add to Malezi’s firm foundation of self-reliance.

After receiving a proposal and budget for this project from my NGO partner in Nairobi, CEPACET, I did what I usually do—shared it with those who have been connected to and following my project work over the years.

It just so happened I knew somebody from Portugal who told me she had already collected enough money for two toilets from fundraising for a different project we were going to work on, which is indefinitely on hold.

I asked my friend if I could use what she had collected to purchase toilets for Malezi. She consulted with her various donors and came back to me with an enthusiastic, "Yes."

These discussions took place back in May of this year. It wasn't until October, when I finally wired the money to Nairobi due to a number of setbacks with figuring out a way to move funds between Portugal and the US.

Now, we expect to open two, brand new Fresh Life toilets in a few weeks (one for boys, one for girls). The exact launch date is still TBD.

Further Adding to Malezi's Self-Reliance

The Malezi Centre is a self-sustaining operation and does not rely on outside donations to meet its basic monthly overhead.

We own the property the centre is built on, so a rent payment is not due to any landlord. The Headmistress, Teacher Grace, is firm about collecting 300 KSh/month (~$3 ) from the parents of each student who attends the school. We also earn income via the side business of selling clean water to the community.

The toilets will further add to Malezi's firm foundation of self-reliance. They will be free to use for students, teachers, and volunteers of the centre but not free for everybody else, yet still slightly less than the going market rate.

A portion of the proceeds will pay the toilet operator a fare wage, the rest will funnel back into the centre. At this rate, it's possible Malezi might be able to generate savings and so fund its own improvement projects!

Until such time, I'm happy to act as facilitator in terms of locating capital to start these types of projects ,whose benefit ripples out in widening circles of sustainability and empowerment.

Continue to the next update about this project.