On World Toilet Day, the Healthy Family Program in Ecuador makes sanitation a top priority.

BY KARLOSO FIALLOS

 

Alright, let’s talk about it. Everybody poops. And where you live can determine what your options are when nature calls.

It shouldn’t be this way.

For a long time, communities along the banks of the Napo River in the Amazon had only one option—outside.

There are obvious problems with this: it contaminates the ground, flows into waterways, attracts insects and spreads deadly diseases. People walking barefoot and kids playing outside are particularly exposed.

One woman wouldn’t have it.

For over a decade, Olga Shiguango, a member of the Bellavista community in the Ecuadorian Amazon, had the only working toilet in the community. She and her husband built it themselves. They always kept it clean, working and didn’t mind sharing it with the rest of the community.

When WE partnered with Bellavista to rebuild the school, one of the first projects was a school bathroom. It was a large-scale project, dependant on a clean water system, to make sanitation a top priority. When the toilet block opened, and the handwashing station turned on, there was widespread celebration.

There were now two places people could go—the school and Olga’s house.

This wasn’t enough. Olga knew the importance of keeping waste away from the home: “Kids can step on it, chickens can go there and peck on our waste, and they eat it. We thought to ourselves, ‘Every family needs to have a bathroom, this can’t keep going on.’”

Olga was already a member of WE’s women’s group in Bellavista. The group creates income opportunities for women as artisans with ME to WE, and WE team members provide on-going workshops on financial literacy, group management and leadership skills.

Olga joined the women’s group because she wanted to make a better income for her family. That was the initial motivator for all the women. With a new income source stabilized, the WE Villages team started the next phase of the group’s program—a formal focus on what it means to raise healthy families.

New toilet installed by the Health Families Program

The workshop talk turned to hygiene and sanitation—two subjects Olga cares about deeply.

Soon, all the women wanted their own household bathrooms.

Olga championed to build a communal bathroom next to the women’s group meeting space first. This would eliminate the walk members needed to do to the school. “I told the ladies we need to build this quickly. We can’t keep using the bathroom in the school. And if the bathroom is closed and we go in the jungle, and something stings us … what happens then? It’s our own fault for not building this fast.”

WE Villages projects are successful because they are community driven. There is a strong sense of ownership. The women organize mingas to carry the material they need for the construction. Through their hard work, and Olga’s motivation, the options for where to go when nature calls are changing.

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