Community Voices: Marta Alicia Orellana

Sra Marta Orellana en la construcción de la obra gris ó caja receptora de su Letrina Abonera
Ms. Orellana stands next to her unfinished composting latrine in the town of El Porvenir.

Several years ago, Marta Alicia Orellana of El Porvenir, El Salvador had invested in building a formal latrine at her home, but due to a lack of finances it was never finished.¬† As the base and the walls deteriorated, she found herself using shower curtains around the latrine for privacy, but risked “exposing her physical and moral integrity” daily due to the poor state of her family’s bathroom.

When Trees, Water & People and the Mayor’s office of El Porvenir announced another round of latrine donations, she quickly put her name on the list. She now says she feels more secure having reduced risk of contamination for her family and for those who visit her home, and shows off her new latrine proudly.

Sra. Marta Orellana beneficiaria de Letrina Abonera
Marta stands proud next to her finished dry composting latrine.

How does a dry composting latrine work?

doublevaultcompostinglatrineThe dry compost latrines consist of two chambers made of concrete cinder blocks with a toilet seat, including urine diverter, placed over each of the chambers.  After each use, stove ash, compost, and/or sawdust is added inside the chamber to reduce odors and keep the chamber dry. It also includes a vent to allow fresh air to circulate and further dry the solid matter.  After one chamber is filled it is left to dry during six to eight month periods while the second chamber is in use. The contents of the first chamber are then transformed into a rich fertilizer that can be used on surrounding crops or trees after a drying period under the sun and mixed with a 1:1 ratio of earth.  One dry composting latrine can serve families of more than six people for over 10 years with proper maintenance.

This region is tropical and volcanic, with regular seismic activity, episodes of torrential rains, and a high water table. During big rain events, the ground gets completely saturated, flooding traditional pit latrines, which then leach excrement and pathogens onto open land, into agricultural fields, and into drinking water supplies. Replacing these common pit latrines with composting latrines means cleaner groundwater and a more hygienic conditions in the home, leading to a lower disease burden in these communities.

Notes from the Field: Healthier Communities Through Composting Latrines

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

composting pit latrine base
The base of a new composting latrine and of a healthier community!

Five families – a total of 20 individuals – received a new dry composting latrine in El Porvenir, El Salvador, thanks to a generous grant of $3,100 from Catapult supporters.

Eliminating common pit latrines means cleaner groundwater and a more hygienic conditions in the home, leading to a lower disease burden in these communities. The latrines were built in collaboration with the beneficiaries, who provided rock for the foundation, cement mortar, and sweat equity during the construction of the latrine.

Furthermore, the local municipality donated the pre-fabricated concrete slab floor and the molded concrete toilet seat, while TWP provided the cement blocks, the wooden frame for the structure of the bathroom, the metal sheet for the walls and roof, and the vent pipes. Funds were also used to hire skilled laborer, to supervise the construction, and to train families in use and maintenance of the latrine.

Risks and challenges

Having managed international development projects for over 15 years in Central America and the Caribbean, Trees, Water & People is no stranger to risk and challenges in our work. However, our unique methodology of requiring a community cost-share and sweat equity from beneficiaries increases investment and involvement from all stakeholders, and thus increases our odds of implementing projects with lasting benefits.

building latrine_Colonia Izaguirre Tegucigalpa
Construction of new composting latrines

The biggest risk in this case, mitigated by experience and close supervision by Trees, Water, and People implementors, is building the structure in compliance with El Salvador’s Health Ministry standards for composting latrines.

Due to the community’s organization and cooperation, the project was completed before deadline, all families are 100% switched over to their new latrine, and the old pit latrines have been filled for the last time.

Up Close

new latrine composting pit latrine
A new composting pit latrine

I had a chance to visit a prior installation of 10 dry composting latrines in this region of El Salvador, and the testimonies and tangible signs of change were palpable.

This region is tropical and volcanic, with regular seismic activity, episodes of torrential rains and a high water table. During big rain events, the ground gets completely saturated, and all pit latrines are flooded, leaching excrement and pathogens onto open land, into agricultural fields, and into drinking water supplies.

The structures that conceal the conventional latrines are typically a few torn bedsheets, shower curtains or cardboard, and people are often ashamed to show them to you. In contrast, all latrines I saw were kept very tidy and odor free, and people were extremely proud to show them off. From looking at the images attached to this report, you can see why this is such an important change to people’s lives.

Next steps

The five latrines that we set out to build with Catapult funds have been completed and are in full use. We are continuing to coordinate with the municipality about additional households we could serve with the same methodology, and are actively looking for donors to support this important work.

Photo of the Week: Planting trees in Cite Soleil, Haiti

Kids planting trees_Haiti
About this photo

In partnership with¬†Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), we have been working to “close the loop and transform the poop.” Part of this effort involves tree planting and educating the local youth.

In this photo, Haitian children in¬†Cite Soleil¬†learn about caring for the environment by planting trees using Ecosan compost. This special compost, produced by SOIL, is created using innovative composting toilets. The sustainable and environmentally friendly “humanure” compost is changing the way Haitians look at sanitation, agriculture, and natural resource management.

(Photo credit: SOIL 2013)

Photo of the Week: Healthy Toilets, Healthy Families

dry composting pit latrine

About this photo

One of the primary causes of surface and groundwater contamination in El Salvador is the deposit of human waste in shallow pit latrines. These makeshift toilets frequently leach into groundwater or overflow and pool on ground surfaces, which poses a serious threat to family and environmental health. However, since they are inexpensive and necessary, pit latrines are prevalent in peri-urban and rural areas.

Trees, Water & People and our partners, Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), build improved dry composting latrines (pictured above) that consist of two containers for the deposit of fecal matter, with a separator for urine. The latrine is designed so that an average family of five members fills one container in approximately six months.

These facilities will help local residents avoid contamination of their precious soils and water supplies, thereby reducing the prevalence and incidence of gastrointestinal diseases, parasites and dysentery.

To support the construction of more dry composting latrines in Central America please click here. Thank you for your support!

Notes from the Field: Haitian Tree Nursery Thriving

by Monica Roy and Claire Frohman, Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL)

haiti tree nursery

It’s January and the slightly cooler weather has made the SOIL farm in northern Haiti a very pleasant place to be! The nursery is as green as ever: full of avocado, cashew,¬†orange, breadfruit, moringa, and mangrove trees. We have started collaborations with local community groups to plant the first batch of trees. This is the first community reforestation event of many more to come!

8 - Contemplating projectsIn addition to getting ready for community planting days, the SOIL nursery staff are also busy setting up a tracking system to document where all the trees are going to be planted. This system will allow for easy follow-up and tree care support as necessary over the coming year, as the trees get established in the ground, and will continue to do so in the many years to come, as the trees begin to green the mountainsides of Haiti!

All the trees will be¬†planted using rich, organic compost generated by SOIL’s eco-toilets from the urban Cap-Haitien community of Shada. In order to celebrate the SOIL “poop loop” cycle of¬†toilets to compost to tree planting, tours are being organized of the SOIL farm for Shada’s eco-toilet users.

close the loop and transform the poop
Click on photo to enlarge.

We’re excited to provide the people of this urban community¬†the chance to come out and see the positive impact that their toilets are having on Haiti’s environment and even more excited by the prospect of bringing our project full¬†circle: where there is enough space and motivation, we are planning to plant some trees from our nursery in and near the households of our toilet users in Shada!

Stay tuned for more updates and thank you to all the generous donors who have supported this project.

haiti tree nursery

Happy World Toilet Day!

Did you know that 1 in 3 women worldwide live without a toilet?  In Haiti, only 10% of rural populations and less than 25% of those in cities have access to adequate sanitation facilities, by far the lowest coverage in the Western Hemisphere.

We are working with Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) in Haiti to “close the loop and transform the poop”! This project uses “humanure” from SOIL’s EcoSan composting toilets to fertilize thousands of fruit trees that will be sold to local farmers for soil improvement projects and as a nutritious source of food. We need your help to fund this project. Every donation you make will be matched dollar for dollar!

Click photo to enlarge

Matching Campaign: Help “Close the Loop” in Haiti!

reforest Haiti

We are excited to announce the launch of our 10,000 Trees for Haiti matching campaign! In partnership with Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), we are raising funds to plant 10,000 more trees in northern Haiti, an area ravaged by years of deforestation. The most exciting part: every dollar you donate will be matched!

Every one of these 10,000 trees will be planted using a mix of local soil and “humanure” from SOIL’s composting facility.¬†By collecting and responsibly treating human waste, and then reincorporating it back into the earth with a tree seedling, we can increase soil health and productivity for Haitian farmers, and keep local waterways clean.¬†So in supporting reforestation with your donation, you are also contributing to healthy, sustainable sanitation infrastructure in Haiti and improved livelihoods for farmers and their families!

Your donation will help to “close the loop and transform the poop!”

the poop loop

Remember, every donation will be matched dollar for dollar! Together, we can plant thousands of trees that will decrease soil erosion, provide families with nutritious fruit, and create a source of valuable income.

donate to reforest haiti

Photo of the Week: Improving Community Health with Composting Latrines

dry composting latrines_el salvador
A woman and her child stand next to their new composting latrine. Trees, Water & People and our partners, Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), build improved dry composting latrines for families living in rural El Salvador. These improved toilets reduce diseases and improve soil and water quality.

Matching Campaign: Help Plant 10,000 Trees in Haiti!

trees for Haiti

“It is my vision that Haiti will have too many SOIL toilets producing compost and we’ll have to start exporting the compost to the Dominican Republic and to all the other countries of the world!”
‚Äď Daniel Tillias of Pax Christi Ayiti

Last year, Trees, Water & People partnered with Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) and Jam Cruise passengers to plant thousands of fruit tree seeds in northern Haiti using SOIL’s EcoSan compost (human manure, aka “humanure”). These trees have matured and are now being planted. But, local community organizations and farmers’ cooperatives have asked us to do even more to help make the mountainsides of Haiti green with trees again.

We envision planting 10,000 more seedlings, hosting tree-planting days, and creating an agricultural education center that can host EcoSan workshops, agricultural exchanges, and research. The tree seedlings planted through this effort will be sold at an affordable, subsidized rate to local famers and cooperatives who will then plant them in the mountains of northern Haiti.

With your help we can make this vision a reality! Please donate today to help us plant 10,000 more trees in Haiti.

Learn more and donate >>