The toilet gives privacy and security, salamat!
By Arifa Sharmin
GUIUAN, EASTERN SAMAR, Philippines, 5 May 2014 – "It has given me privacy and security. I do not need to go to the bushes or use neighbour's toilets at night anymore. Salamat (Thank you)," says 21-year old Rosana, daughter of Mariha Sigun, 49.
"We are grateful and happy to receive support in repairing the toilet as my family members no longer need to go to the bush," said Fransisco, 63.
"I had no money to repair the toilet. Your support helped me to rebuild the toilet. We are very grateful," echoed Majdalam Ayhon, 36, a mother of five children.
These are some of the testaments that show how a small support can make a big difference in peoples' lives.
Impact of Typhoon Yolanda makes setting priorities difficult
Typhoon Yolanda made the first of its six landfalls in Guiuan and left its devastating trail throughout the city while ravaging the entire region. Out of the 416 families living in Barangay (village) 8 in Guiuan, 137 had their toilets partially damaged and rendered unusable. Going to the bushes became the only option for these families irrespective of their age and sex.
"My family members were safe. However, the typhoon battered our neighbourhood. It was a difficult period. Even today, getting a plumber, fixing the roof or buying galvanised iron sheet and other construction materials for repair are not easy," said Mariha.
"Not having a toilet at home forced me to go to the bushes. It can be dangerous, especially after dark. It is more difficult for women during the menstrual period," said Rosana, relating her particular challenges during those days when her family could not afford to repair the toilet.
"We have managed to repair the roof of our house, but did not have the money to fix the toilet," added Mariha, a mother of six children. The family income was reduced to PHP2,000 a month as her fisherman husband does not have a regular income.
The story of Francisco's family is not much different. Francisco and his wife Dolorosa live with 12 family members in a small house. They use the front part as a small shop.
"Our priority was to repair our rooftop after the typhoon with the small savings we had. There was not enough money to repair the broken toilet," said Francisco.
Communities enabled to bring the change
As part of the Philippines Approach to Total Sanitation (PHATS) and drive toward open defecation-free communities, an assessment was conducted in Barangay 8. It identified 137 out of 416 households in need of proper toilets.
The PHATS initiative is based on a nationally agreed strategy to promote universal access to improved sanitation and hygiene behaviour. It aims to end the practice of open defecation by facilitating change in social norms and by building resilience.
"We have received hollow blocks, GI Sheets, cement and a toilet bowl to repair the toilet," said Mariha.
Other families identified in the assessment had also received similar support through the government and partners with support from UNICEF.
"We conducted the assessment in order to support communities in rebuilding toilets – with the aim to achieve open defecation-free status for this area in line with the PHATS initiative," said Mohammad Shahzad, WASH Cluster Information Officer working with UNICEF in Guiuan.
"Providing material support to the families to repair toilets and drinking water sources, fixing and replacing damaged pipes and taps, and restoring sanitation facilities in schools are some of the immediate interventions that helped the community. The minimum cost of rebuilding a toilet varies between USD80 and USD100 based on needs, but it has a huge impact on the lives of women and children particularly," Mohammad added.
Indeed, the return from an investment in a toilet bowl, a few GI Sheets and hollow blocks goes a long way not only in preventing open defecation and helping maintain a healthy environment, but also in providing security, privacy and dignity of community members, especially women.