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.

Project Update: El Salvador Composting Latrine Project in Full Swing

composting latrine el salvador
A Salvadoran mother stands proudly next to her new composting latrine.

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

In use for roughly six months, the five composting latrines funded by Catapult supporters are now in full swing. Each latrine has two compartments, and soon, the first compartment will be filled, capped, and left to compost while the other is put into use. In the time it takes to fill the second compartment, the first will have composted into a ‚Äúhumanure‚ÄĚ to be used by families as a soil amendment – great for fruit trees and certain cash crops. This is the closed loop that many of us in the world of ecological sanitation strive to be part of, and for those without basic sewage services, it’s a huge step up from an unsanitary pit latrine.

Get personal

“It is gratifying that our work in El Salvador through Trees, Water & People leaves a trail of impact in communities and even public and private institutions and service organizations who use our support to develop projects that benefit the target population of their programs.” – Armando Hernandez, Project Director (translated by Sebastian Africano)

Risks and challenges

For anyone, the prospect of storing and then handling your family’s sewage is conceptually daunting. This is likely the biggest hump to get over when implementing a composting latrine project – getting people comfortable with managing poop. This is where appropriate design comes in – if a composting latrine is well designed, you shouldn’t smell anything, you shouldn’t see flies, and you should find nothing resembling anything but soil when you crack it open one year after first use. Getting people to that first “aha” moment is crucial in getting them to cross that conceptual hump and use their latrine year after year.

What we’ve learned

Visiting and monitoring a composting latrine program, or any ecological sanitation program, requires you to enter and speak composed and comfortably to families about some of their most personal household activities. It’s always educational, and it’s a great exercise in humility and in finding commonality with people who live in a completely different reality than you do. The important message to convey is that you’re there to learn and help rather than judge, and more often than not, families are welcoming and interested in hearing and discussing your observations. Sincere communication and education across cultural and societal lines are so important in our work.

TreesWaterPeople_Latrines_doublevaultcompostinglatrine

Next steps

There is a great need for sanitation services in rural El Salvador. Working with our partners on the ground, we will continue to look for the funds needed to build more composting pit latrines for communities in need. In addition to our fundraising efforts, we will continue to monitor and evaluate the latrines that have already been constructed.

If you would like to support this project please visit our website to make a donation today!

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: Improved Sanitation for Families in El Salvador

dry composting latrines El Salvador

About this photo

Poorly built pit latrines can harbor diseases such as Hepatitis A, Protozoal Amoebiasis, and Ecoli as well as contaminate the environment over time. Trees, Water & People began installing dry composting latrines in El Salvador to improve quality of life and the environment by providing more sanitary conditions and controlling human waste that otherwise leaches into the soils and surrounding water supplies. 

Working with our local partner, Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo, and thanks to donors on Catapult.org, we recently installed five composting latrines for families in El Porvenir, El Salvador. A total of 19 people, such as Vilma Antonia Rivera Montano (pictured above), are now benefiting from cleaner sanitation solutions and healthier watersheds.

Thank you to everyone who supported this important project on Catapult!

Learn more about how our latrines work >>

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!

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.