It improves sanitation, it improves health
By Elena Prieto
“They are cleaner now!” Douglas’ statement is that blunt when defining the new latrines installed in his school. Eight-year old Douglas Agustín is in second grade in Escuela Oficial Mixta of Capucal Centro, La Unión, Zacapa, and for the past year he has daily enjoyed a much more sanitary latrine system at school and at home.
Fifty school children from six primary grades gather everyday in a single classroom where the only teacher distributes her time among all of them. Over the long school hours, boys and girls constantly ask her for permission to go to the bathroom. When the school day is over, they sweep the classroom floor and the teacher presses the latrine water seal, and then the school is ready to shelter the children once again next day.
The new latrines - funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF - have substituted the traditional simple latrines, which may still be seen in one corner of the school patio. The new ones are near the classroom and make the trips to the bathroom more pleasant, reducing the risk of diseases easily reproduced in wells or pits. “It was ugly before because everything was covered with flies and mosquitoes, and they bit me”, explains Douglas.
“The new system consists of a water seal latrine with ventilated improved pit. It comes with a fibreglass seat that is very easy to clean”, explains Carlos Rivera from the Municipal Planning Office of La Unión.
On the other hand, next to the bathroom is the “pila” (concrete water deposit) with running water where boys and girls wash their hands before and after their trips to the bathroom. “The teacher has taught us to wash our hands after we go to the bathroom and so we are not so sick any-more”, adds Delia, Douglas’s older sister.
An improved system also at home
After school, Delia and Douglas go home, where their mother Julia García is waiting for them. Their father and two older brothers “are working in the field”. Julia has just finished her domestic tasks and combs her -just washed- hair before cooking lunch.
“This latrine is better. It is always cleaner, although now I clean it more. Before, I cleaned every three days and now every seven days, and it always looks pretty. And it is not so cold. The other was made of cement mixture and felt very cold as one sat”, remarks Julia. “It does not smell either and there are no flies because now they come me out through the upper pipe”, she adds.
The latrine and sanitation system is somewhat deficient in the municipality of La Unión. Out of close to 5,000 homes in 59 communities, 3,200 are equipped with latrines, 600 with sewers and 1,200 with none. Therefore, the latrine system installed in all houses of Capucal Centro -with UNICEF support- is an example to the rest of the communities in the municipality.
“Homes are equipped with improved ventilated pit latrines with a fibreglass seat and a cover to reduce bad odours”, adds Carlos Rivera.
Little does Douglas know about latrine systems available in the market. What he really knows is that the new system has changed his life. And, once his initial shyness disappears, he talks about one of his best-kept secrets: “I used to have to walk a lot to reach the latrine because it was not here before, it was further away. When I had to go at night, I woke my mother up so that she would come with me because I was afraid. It was very dark and I didn’t want to be alone. Now I always go by myself”.