Tailor-made toilets boost morale in cyclone-ravaged Fiji

Published: 13 June 2016 8:54 CET

By Corinne Ambler, IFRC

In the remote village of Naboutolu in the interior of Fiji’s Ra Province, the noise of construction activity mixes with the normal village sounds of children playing and roosters crowing.

A team of Fiji Red Cross volunteers from Rakiraki, along with a carpenter and plumber, is busy sawing plastic piping, mixing concrete and hammering nails. They laugh and chatter as they go about their work of repairing outdoor toilets that were destroyed when Cyclone Winston struck the area in March.

Heading the team is Isara Iose, who was deployed to Fiji from the Samoa Red Cross as part of a regional disaster response team. His team of volunteers all originate from areas impacted by the cyclone.

“They are local volunteers mostly from Nokonoko and Vatukacevaceva and their motivation comes from wanting to help their own people. We started with their own village as a trial and a model for the rest - so they knew they had to get it right,” he says. “This approach is also serving to build the capacity of local volunteers.”

In nearby Nokonoko village, Suliasi Bale and his wife Terry, both 65, proudly show off their brand new flush toilet, with attached hand washing station. Before Isara and his team arrived the couple and their three-year-old granddaughter Jipa were using an old pit latrine which meant having to cart water every time it needed flushing.

“I’d been away for a month and when I came back I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Terry. “Coming home to a new toilet was a marvellous surprise. Other people in the village have been asking to use it and we’ve gladly let them. I’ve been joking to my husband that he’ll have to lock the toilet or everyone will want to use it,” she laughs.

In making the repairs, Isara and his team have taken in to account the special needs of each household. They built a concrete ramp up to the toilet to give the elderly couple easier access. In Naboutolu the team also built a concrete path to the new toilet build for a man left wheelchair-bound by a stroke and widened the toilet door to make access easier for him.

In the first phase of the project the team will repair 300 toilets and in the second phase they will target 2,000 households in a joint project with the Red Cross shelter team. They will also be building communal toilets as a joint project with UNICEF. The team is currently testing local water quality in a few villages to ensure it is not being contaminated and is safe to drink.

“The head man is really happy we’re here. They didn’t know where to start,” said Isara Iose.  Some of the older people are still traumatised and are having real difficulty when it comes to making plans. Also they had no materials or tools and were using pit latrines – which are not safe because they are exposed. Together with the community we agreed on shutting them down as we repaired other existing toilets for them to use.”

In Naboutolu village, where 38 of the 42 houses were destroyed and people are still living in tents and temporary shelters, the new toilets have given a vital boost to health and morale. As well as making repairs to people’s toilets the Red Cross programme also includes a health education component. The volunteers explain good hygiene practises such as regular hand-washing to community members which serves to keep people healthy.