Marka in Ghana

Monday, July 03, 2006

If you build it, they will come…. Or will they?

One of my personal interests has been community and personal latrine building within the district, so I’m always asking people of their opinions on them. So far I’ve come across some pretty interesting information. First of all, there are public latrines just a really short distance from my house, which you don’t have to pay to use, yet the only other person in my household that uses them is my Ghanian mother. Everyone else still prefers to go in the bush, and the reasons very from person to person. I would say that the number one reason that people don’t want to use them is that they just aren’t comfortable with them. If you have been going in the bush since they were young, it is what you are used to. I think if someone offered us the choice between a real toilet and an outhouse, we would be much more comfortable with a toilet! Some people believe that using public latrines actually increases disease spread, because everyone is going in one spot, and you may catch something from the person that went in there before you. There is also the issue of maintenance. Our latrines are cleaned out on a weekly schedule, but I have also heard of latrines that are not cleaned out so regularly, which obviously causes people to not want to use them. (Think about how many times you would rather pass on some gas station’s bathrooms and just go at the side of the road!) Some public latrines have a small fee to use them that pays someone to keep them maintained, and while it is a really small fee, for those who can’t afford it or would rather spend it on something like a bucket of water, they are basically ineligible for the use of the latrine.
Why don’t more people have a latrine in their homes? Robert Chambers says that no NGO should be giving out personal latrines because if people can afford to build themselves a home, they can also afford to put in a latrine. I can definitely see the logic in this and have priced out the cost of a home, and the cost of a personal latrine and the latrine would be a small fraction of the cost of a home. However, I find that in a lot of communities, people are waiting for NGO’s to come and install them. When we suggest during our workshops that they can build their own out of the local materials, some are actually surprised that they never thought of the idea themselves. One of the downsides of having a latrine in your home is that many of your neighbors will come and ask you if they can use it, so a lot of people tell me that they are waiting for more people to get them before they get their own! What I find most surprising about my talks about latrines with most people in the community is one of the reasons stated by many, including my coworkers, to build a home latrine. There is a local belief of witches, as well as special, powerful creatures. These creatures have the ability to take the form of any animal or human, and transporting themselves to any place in an instant. After night fall, these creatures roam the community, looking to do harm to those they meet. For this reason, after sun set (6:30 pm) most people will not leave their compounds, especially not to use the latrine! So while to the western world, the health benefits of using a personal latrine might be on the top of our lists, it may be much more beneficial to market the fact that you won’t have to leave your house at night!

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