Sunday, August 12, 2012

Public health/Building the latrines

The first part of our trip we worked with 3 families in a Latin community called Platania to help them build compost latrines. A latrine is basically an outhouse that the family can use as a bathroom but is also cool because it eventually makes fertilizer for their land. A big problem in Panama is sanitation. Most of these families before this project started were just using pit latrines. This is basically just a hole in the ground. The problem is that it rains everyday in Panama and so the pit latrines would constantly overflow causing a huge mess and lots of sanitation issues. (Some of the poorer parts of the communities that couldn't afford pit latrines would just have to go in the woods or the river which is obviously a way bigger issue).

Global Brigades started this project in this community by gathering people at town meetings and really getting them excited to have these latrines. The people who showed interest by attending all of the meetings but also had additional funds to pay for supplies would be able to get a latrine. The family I was assigned was the house of Senor Domingo. His wife was actually chosen to be the leader of the Platania latrine committee which was really cool because we knew that our hard work would actually get put to use!

My family was absolutely amazing and so hospitable. Senor Domingo was there with us all day every day helping out and his wife and daughters were so sweet. Senora Domingo brought us each a glass of soda at lunch on the first day which we ate on their front porch. One of the daughters and her aunt made us these traditional Panamanian sugar and fruit ice pops that were absolutely delicious and a great break to the heat. They were a long three days and a lot of work, but it was so rewarding to make such a big difference for this sweet family.

This is what the latrine looked like at the end of the first day. We had to lay down the foundation then put 5 layers of cement blocks around the outside and through the middle to make 2 different pits. We then mortared around the entire thing for structure and to make it look nice. I have never in my life done anything like this before and I had no idea how to mix concrete. It was a lot harder than I thought!

This was the end of the 2nd day! We added the stairs leading up and put down the floor and the toilets. In the back we also added the doors. There are two toilets because the family switches off using it every year. Every time they "use the latrine" they throw a little bit of saw dust down into the chamber below to dry out the feces. During the year that it is not being used the bacteria in the feces are killed I think by just the sun and time so that at the end of the year the material has become compost. The family can just open the door in the back and use the compost for fertilizer for their land. In order for this to work though and for the feces to dry out the toilet has two separate sections... one for going number one and the other for going number two. This is the only difficult part of the system as you can imagine. The urine just drains down a tube which we called the "pee pee ducto" and then goes into the ground. Senor Domingo (on the very right) called me "la reina de la pee pee ducto" aka the queen of the pee pee ducto (I got made fun of because my Spanish was the worst... it had been a long time since I had practiced my Spanish).

Senor Domingo had a huge coconut tree in his yard so he cut us down fresh coconuts for use to drink. I had never had coconut juice but it was soooo good. There is also meat that you can eat on the inside. That was a little weird but when in Panama...

This was our finished project! We were so far ahead the last day all we had to do was put the roof on. When the family has more materials they will have to add walls, but they didn't have those that day so when we finished we just went and helped out the other groups. You can see Senor Domingo in the back and Senora Domingo and her daughter on the very left. I have to say Panamanian ladies are absolutely gorgeous. The rest of us that were on this latrine team were from the left Matt (Loyola), Julie (Loyola), me (SLU), and Christine (Creighton). I loved my group.

Here are some more pictures....

Finished project from far away. It looks so pretty!

The front of their house. This gives you kind of an idea of their living situation. The floors are concrete and it used to be a family owed store hence the writing on the front. Dr. Michelfelder gave everyone waterguns to keep cool...turned into pictures like this.

Pathway on the side of the house leading to the back yard area to get to the latrine.

View from Senor Domingo's backyard. Absolutely beautiful. The whole countryside of Panama is so green because it rains all of the time and there are mountains surrounding it. I wouldn't mind going to the bathroom outside with this view!


Post a Comment