On World Toilet Day 2015, Y Care International’s Helen Frost reports from Liberia after witnessing the wide ranging impacts of building toilets in communities at high risk of disease and illness.
Thanks to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter we are all prone to sharing the details of our daily lives from the exciting to the mundane, from declarations of love to sharing what we ate for lunch- we have all done it, we have all shared something. Yet, there is an area that remains unchartered; considered by many to be off-limits: toilet chat.
As it’s World Toilet Day, let’s charter those murky waters (avoiding the bog-standard puns along the way), to understand what toilets mean to some of the communities Y Care International works with.
It is estimated that 2.4 billion people currently lack access to quality sanitation facilities; that is one in three people who do not have clean and safe toilets to use on a daily basis! Y Care International works with communities around the world to improve the lives of young people, through improved access to healthcare, sanitation and education and training to find jobs. In Liberia, we are working with the YMCA partner to build stronger, more resilient communities.
I recently visited two slum communities in Liberia: West Point and Slipway. They sit perched between the water’s edge and the capital of Liberia, Monrovia. The two small communities are home to over 88,000 people and were severely affected by the Ebola outbreak over the last 18 months. West Point found itself at the epicentre of the epidemic; the whole slum was quarantined to try to stop the spread of the disease
Weaving through West Point during the rainy season it is clear to see how crowded the slum is. The road underfoot soon gives way to sand and streams of rainwater which edge their way to the sea. The houses end abruptly and you emerge onto a beach of golden sand where fishermen bring in their catch, yet this is not an idyllic West African holiday option.
Open defecation is a reality and necessity of everyday life in West Point. Slum communities often develop and evolve without proper planning and there are limited public services, such as water points and toilets.
The residents of these slum areas have few resources or opportunities; the average income in the area is less than $0.50 a day. Without simple resources such as clean toilets, people are forced to use the beach which increases the risk of illness especially diarrhoea; they are not afforded any protection, especially women and children, or any dignity in a daily and necessary bodily function.
Y Care International has been working with the Liberia YMCA and the communities to build latrine points to address this issue. A set of toilets will be used at least 4,915 times a month and over 1,916 people will benefit in the local area. The community manage these toilets ensuring that they remain clean and accessible. In West Point a wash point with hot water has been built by the community to ensure that there is a safe space for showering. A local community member reported that such services were invaluable as they are allowing them to improve their community: “We want to stand on our own feet; we are creating change so that tomorrow we can lead better lives.”
On World Toilet Day, let’s talk about toilets. Today we should acknowledge that around one billion people have to “go” in the open which can have a huge impact on people’s health and lives. By supporting the work of Y Care International you can help communities in West Africa and beyond build clean and safe toilets so that communities can become stronger, healthier and achieve more.