Adopting to New Models – Container Based Sanitation From Sanivation Kenya

In Features 19, Water and Sanitation by Mary Kurek

By Jane Wambui Mugo

Rapid urbanization in the developing countries leaves very little time and space for proper infrastructure and settlement planning. This is because rural-to-urban migration in the past few years that has been fueled by search of employment and opportunities in urban centers. In the case of Naivasha, almost 400,000 people inhabit the municipality about 90 km North of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The majority of this population are farm laborers in the vast horticultural farms around the fresh-water lake Naivasha, others are fishermen, hospitality workers, and small scale traders. The average income margin is 100 dollars per month.

Due to the nature of available work, the population mainly consists of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people due to high levels of illiteracy, lack of exposure, and high poverty levels. These situations leave the communities in a hopeless state of lack of knowledge, resources, or information to improve their living standards. It is also a challenge in wholesome improvements as there is minimal ownership of responsibility, as the majority believe they are on transit and put little to no effort to improve the living standards. While a few people have acquired land and built their homes, the others live in shared compounds with other families and share amenities like toilets.

When a Container-Based toilet or Container-Based Sanitation (CBS) was introduced to the community, the greatest challenge we faced was on ensuring the information in regard to the CBS toilet and service was correct. This is because it was completely a new idea brought to solve a very intimate challenge. It took several community engagements to break the ice. But that was not enough, as the toilets did not fly off the shelves; it took us to devise a more strategic approach, and this time, we involved them with customizing a sanitation solution for their location.

Africa, Kenya, Naivasha. Sanivation project. Thomas Maera (44) works with Sanivation cleaning and servicing the blue box toilets in people’s homes. Sanivation provides clean sanitation service in homes. The toilet is serviced and fecal sludge is treated with solar thermal heat treatment, then mixed with water and charcoal dust to make briquettes. Finished briquettes are sold to local vendors to be sold as cost-efficient fuel to local customers.

The process included going door-to-door, and together, with the whole household, calculate the costs of living in their current sanitation and the difference if they changed their sanitation by adding a little more effort in accepting to own the responsibility. It is during this exercise that we realized how important sanitation is to people, but due to taboos and culture, norms and beliefs, the topic is not openly discussed. Families would become outspoken in the presence of a third party and pour their frustrations to each other, their neighbors, and the government. Creating a safe space for people to think out loud and discuss as a family the best sanitary practice was one way we positively impacted. We realized that, despite the fact that women and children faced the most sanitation challenges, they were also the least decision-makers, which meant they would have to solely depend on the men’s decision in terms of where they lived, availability of proper sanitation facilities, as well as purchasing sanitary products like water and soap. It is of utmost importance to include men in sanitation discussions as well as support women in decision making to improve their sanitation situation.

The CBS toilet service that includes the toilet accessories and the bi-weekly service was put to test a viable business model to ensure sustainability. The toilet is installed at no fee and the client pays a fee of 2$ a month for service. The fee is to ensure that operations can run and we could expect to get to a break-even point at 2000 households. We learned that, as much as sanitation is a communal effort, it really drives back to individual decisions. There was a positive change in living standards and the total outlook of life for those who used our services improved. They felt more achieved as they were able to control the area where their families defecated, being able to own a private and dignified toilet for the first time in their lives. It made them able to look clearly at their living costs as part of the decision-making decision, which helped them reflect also on other parts of their lives.

Imagine this, after years of saving, a young family is able to buy a piece of land and construct a few rooms and move in before its completely finished. The family cannot afford in-house plumbing at the moment and their only toilet; an unlined pit latrine with only sackcloth as the walls, located in a few yards at a corner in their unfenced compound. The father works away from home and the mother is left with 3 children to take care of. The area is run by livestock thieves at night; crime and rape are rampant, especially to such vulnerable families using the toilets at night, the other option would be to defecate in open containers and, more than often, the contents are disposed of unhygienically.

Introducing a new concept of doing things in a very intimate topic in the community has been a learning experience for all of us. It took quite a lot of effort to implement a successful project of in-home Container-Based Sanitation services. We had to do a lot of dissemination in the community as well as preparing a professional team that included a sales team, servicing team, and customer relations. The team went through thorough professionalism training in community-based sales and marketing skills, public relations, health, and safety, as well as basic admin activities.

Everyone wants to be able to use a clean toilet that preserves his or her dignity. It is a source of stress for a lot of people who are unable to access a sanitary facility that offers them these basic needs of human existence. It is also of utmost importance for local and national governments to include policies that can help the most vulnerable who are also the low-income earners in ways that they can be able to individually afford to improve their sanitation. They can introduce subsidies and collaborate with private organizations that may have skills but lack sustainable funding to operate. This way they will reduce the cost burden from the already overwhelmed households. This will lead to safely containment of untreated waste ad remove it from the environment by treating it and recycling it to create new, eco-friendly fuel briquettes that offset carbon levels as well as save trees.

Jane Wambui Mugo is a Sanitation Officer at Sanivation and a social entrepreneur who prides herself from her extensive work in the WASH sector and Community Development in urbanizing towns. Jane’s journey in WASH entrepreneurship began in 2015 when she founded a cleaning company that trained women from very vulnerable backgrounds on professional housekeeping and cleaning skills, customer service and leadership. It’s through that experience, that when Sanivation was ready to scale their CBS toilets in Naivasha in 2016, she was the best fit. She spent over 6 months being coached by a Whitten and Roy Partnership (WRP) Sales consultant on developing and maintaining a practical and customized sales strategy to penetrate the community which she then trained her team. Jane has a passion for service and is the current President of Rotaract Club of Naivasha (A Rotary Club partner) a voluntary Community-based club that seeks to alleviate poverty through service to humanity and is serving as a member of the Boards of Management in two public schools. She is also a trained WASH entrepreneur by CEWAS and a Young Water Fellow-2019 cohort.