Monday, August 31, 2009

"Changing" the Subject

Today we had the opportunity to meet with an amazing man, Mr. David Kuria of Ecotact. David recently received "The African Entrepreneur of 2009" award, and has also been named as an Ashoka Fellow. His mission is to develop innovative answers to the growing environmental sanitation cry in Africa and globally. He has developed a transformational "toilet" system called the Ikotoilet that is now working in Nairobi and has been completed in 39 other locations. He is currently launching the first Ikotoilet at a school in Nairobi with hopes of providing this design to 1000 schools in the coming years.

We learned many tid-bits of information that we didn't know about the cultural taboos surrounding toilets! David informed us that in much of Africa, traditional tribal language does not have a word for toilet. People make excuses to "disappear" for a moment while taking care of business. Students do not ask directly to use the toilet but sit in agony waiting for a break only to line up with all the others to use the few stalls available. He told us that in most rural schools the boys use the wall outside the choo as the urinal because they cannot wait. His idea to design toilets that are in the "spotlight" is highly innovative! In most schools, the "Choo" is placed far from the school building, and is not particularly inviting. Besides the taboo associated with publicly using the toilet, the antiquated design and smell of a pit latrine is daunting. ( VIP latrines now being constructed have provided a much more user friendly toilet) This innovative technology is a new step up from pit latrines.

David convinced the Kenya Government to let him construct an Ikotoilet in a prominent place in the middle of town on Harambee street in Nairobi. Thousands of people pass by the toilets daily, in fact, the average usage is around 1000 people per day. The kiosk has 12 stalls- 6 available for men, and 6 for women, and also has a handicapped stall available.
The kiosk employs at least 10 full time workers to clean the toilets after each use, provides a shoe shining area, a full time facilitator, and a shop where coca-cola and snacks can be purchased. The cost of using the toilet is 5KSH, which translates to a few pennies. Wow! Taking the toilet, putting it in the center AND bringing the topic of toilets out in the open was a huge risk for David. The good news? The Ikotoilet has been well received and will help to transform the attitude towards use of public toilets in Kenya.

H2O for Life hopes to partner with David to bring this innovative technology to 15 schools in Kenya this year.

We spent most of the day meeting with David and the staff at Ecotact. They provided a wonderful lunch of cabbage, rice and vegetables for us. We will meet with them once again- and perhaps have an opportunity to visit the project at a local school if it is completed.

We have met many talented and passionate advocates of water, sanitation and hygiene on this adventure. It gives us hope that the water crisis around the world does have solutions and that we can all help make the world a better place.

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