UNICEF’s support to the construction of proper latrines contributes to a cultural change
by Galina Solodunova
Toilets usually receive little attention in Kyrgyzstan. People think of it as something both disgusting and shameful.
However, despite this cultural taboo, the issue came into the public eye after the June 2010 events. Families who had their households burned down were helped to build temporary two-room houses. But a lack of toilets remained a serious problem. Temporary toilets, constructed with whatever was available, did not satisfy sanitation and hygiene norms. UNICEF was asked to help.
In the Furkat area, technical specialists, the community and all the affected families jointly identified needs. Diloran Adbysomatova, who, after losing her husband to the June events, had to supervise her family of 15 people, was in the first category – those who had nothing left. She received planks and nails and all family members got involved in the reconstruction of their home. Even nine year old Nazokat helped: she made tea and insisted on having a water-tap nearby. Diloran promised to grant her wish by the summer. The articulate Nazokat explained: “Our teachers always tell us that we should wash our hands because otherwise worms can appear in our stomach. At school we have washstands but in the winter, the water can freeze. At home, I want a real water tap… and better … with warm water”. She already has an idea as to where to put the tap. Dilaron and her family are discussing how to construct a sewage system for this washstand. Nazokat contributes by drawing a picture similar to the school posters which advocate hand-washing.
In another family, ShakhsultanYuldashev, who is eight, participated in compiling a plan for the construction of a new house. He dreams of having a bathroom and toilet like the one he had when his family lived in Russia. For the moment, the toilet facilities are provisionally built near the entrance to the family’s temporary two-room house, but this is against sanitation norms. It will smell in the summer. The head of the family explained “We placed it here temporarily just because my children wanted a warm toilet, away from the wind”. The toilet was built between the wall of the temporary house and a remaining wall of their old house; the roof is made out of a rubber sheet. It is out of the wind, but still Shakhsultan is not happy with it because it is still cold and there is nowhere to wash his hands. He is very enthusiastic about the new construction of facilities that UNICEF will support. He drew us the five most urgent things that he needed: a bath, a ball, a computer, a book, and a tetras application.
There are also at least 50 public places that urgently need similar support. Doskeeva, the Health Officer in the Osh UNICEF Office claimed “It is critical to build proper toilets: first of all in maternity houses, children hospitals and resuscitation sections. This does not only improve the general conditions of the patients’ health, it is a life-saving intervention.” It is difficult to imagine how a woman who has just given birth to a baby can use outdoor public toilets. But this is still a reality in many areas of Kyrgyzstan. It is also crucial to improve latrine facilities at schools.
Along with the construction work, critical issues of hygiene and sanitation are being raised. These discussions are bringing an end to the long silence regarding toilets and contribute to a cultural change. Children who demonstrate their knowledge of this issue will prove to be instrumental agents of change within their families and communities.