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Friday, 18 November 2016

Why World Toilet Day matters for the Dorteas of this world

Every toilet twinned to celebrate World Toilet Day brings safety and dignity to a family like Dortea’s. No wonder she’s happy…

It wasn’t so very long ago that Dortea’s smile was a rare event. Every time she and her daughters needed the toilet, they had to venture out into the bush.

‘My husband would stand at the edge of the compound and wait, worrying that something bad might happen to us,’ she recalls. ‘As a mother, I was afraid every time my daughters went. They had to go in groups or be escorted by me.’

Dortea's life has changed, thanks to her loo
The dangers in this remote part of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are many. Snakes and scorpions lurk in the scrub. Dortea’s husband was bitten by a snake a few years and was in hospital for three weeks.

But it wasn’t the wildlife that posed the greatest threat to Dortea and her girls…

‘I came back from the fields one evening with my husband,’ recalls Dortea. ‘A man was waiting in the bush. He came from behind and tried to push me forwards. He used a lot of force… said he had a machete. Then my husband appeared and the man ran off.’

Mwandiga village is in South Kivu province, close to the border with Rwanda and Burundi. At the height of the civil war, armed insurgents from these countries flooded across the frontier, to join what became known as ‘Africa’s World War’. Sexual violence against women was rife across Congo – but South Kivu was a flashpoint.

‘At that time, many people were being attacked as they worked in their fields or came home in the evening,’ says Dortea. ‘Women and girls were also attacked as they went to the bush to go to the toilet, or when they walked to get water. Things were really bad.’

Mwandiga village began as a clearing hacked out of the forest that still surrounds it. Most people came here with nothing in 2008 and found nothing here. They had fled to Tanzania at the height of the civil war, and then been forcibly repatriated.

Gradually, people started building homes and cultivating land. But there was no clean water, and no sanitation. Dortea and her daughters used to have to walk to the shore of Lake Tanganyika to wash or collect water for cooking. It was a long trek, fraught with risks.

Now, despite DRC’s volatile political situation and rumours of conflict, Dortea and her neighbours in Mwandiga feel much safer. Their first line of defence is the new latrines being dug at homes across the village.

Ekyoci watches her son use their tippy tap
Tearfund, whose water and sanitation work Toilet Twinning funds, began to set up Community Health Clubs in the area in 2013. The aim was to help villagers learn and share skills in hygiene and health matters, and to encourage everyone to dig pit latrines next to their houses, for their own families and for one another.

Now Dortea and family have a toilet: they dug the pit, Tearfund provided the slab. And there’s now a borehole nearby, ending their long treks to the lake.

Residents of Mwandiga are now proudly showing off the new tippy taps they use to clean their hands and the bathing areas that they've constructed so they can have privacy when they wash themselves and their children. They now have a drying rack for their pots and pans, to keep them off the ground, and a rubbish pit to contain their waste.

‘Personal hygiene for us and our children was all new to us,’ says Ekyoci, Dortea's neighbour. ‘There used to be a lot of flies buzzing around but they have decreased. We have a lot less disease now.’

Their friend, Zaina, laughs as she talks of Health Club members’ hard sell as they encourage everyone to have a toilet.

‘There is always someone in this village talking about toilets!’ says Zaina. ‘”You must have a toilet, you must have a toilet…” That's how I knew that it was really important for my family’s health and security.

‘The best thing about having our own toilet is the privacy. We know now that we can’t be seen as we go to the toilet.’

Zaina is proud she can protect her sons' health
Dortea, Zaina and Ekyoci are all immensely proud of their toilets. Because, although they have no control over what happens at national level, they can at least be sure that they’re doing what they can to keep their families safe.

As Dortea puts it, ‘People do not need to go far from their houses any more. The instances of women being attacked are much reduced. Things are different now…’

World Toilet Day, which is on November 19 every year, exists to help more people like Dortea, Zaina and Ekyoci access proper sanitation. Their lives have been transformed by a simple pit latrine and some basic training.

Isn’t it time the same thing happened for the one-in-three people who still don’t have a toilet? Twin your toilet today and rewrite someone’s future.

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