Written by Brian Best, specialist in Regenerative Solutions for Alianza Arkana.
In celebration of World Toilet Day, I would like to share my story of why and how I give a shit about sanitation.
World what day? You might ask. Leave it up to the United Nations to give us an official day to reflect on these facts:
- 1 in 3 people, 2.43 billion, on this planet still don’t have access to a clean and safe toilet.
- 1 billion people still defecate in the open.
- 1,000 children die each day due to poor sanitation.
That is more than 2.43 Billion, with a B, people in this world that do not have a clean and safe place to lay their eggs, drop their kids off at the pool, pinch a loaf, chunk a deuce, or speak with the President.
Better sanitation supports better nutrition and improved health, especially for women and children.
Independent Journalist and Blogger, Sarah Hartley, demonstrates concisely Why to Give a Shit about World Toilet Day. In her blog, she details the shitty situation facing more than a billion women and girls as they look for safe places, free from the potential of a sexual assault, to get relief.
In the World Toilet Organization’s words, “Each year UN World Toilet Day calls on the global community to do more to address the sanitation crisis. The theme for 2015 is ‘Sanitation and Nutrition’. …We need to continue to address the taboo nature of toilets and shine a spotlight on sanitation each World Toilet Day”
The founder of World Toilet Day, Jack Sim, said: “What we don’t discuss, we can’t improve.” Thinking and talking about poop are not very glamorous (though this video already mentioned really is!), but the implications for ignoring it are huge.
So back to the story about why and how I give a shit about all of this, a story usually reserved for late night campfires with friends……………..
In January of 2003, I arrived in the Shipibo community of San Francisco for the first time through an invitation of a local teacher. He welcomed me into his home with the hope that I would help solve the problems created by litter and waste in the community. It was after the sun had set and mosquitoes came out for a drink that I received a call from the President, to which I braved the walk to the poorly-lit privy next to the house to have a chat.
With TP in hand I assumed the position and got down in the squat – a position for which I quickly accustomed to using while traveling in rural Peru, and grew to love, to the point where I will perch like a bird on the toilet bowl rim (this fabulous video link will show you why).
Dripping soaked…instant panic after instant relief, instant karma? Perhaps this was spirit/fate’s way of getting my attention. Gotten.
There was then a quick and careful shake, generous amount of TP, the panicked finish, and then the pants-around-the-knees hobble to the front of the house where the no-privacy wash area was located. Pants off, soap on, bienvenidos a San Francisco!
The following morning I went back to town to purchase supplies and made a special trip to the internet cafe; the search engine entry: ‘dry latrine’, ‘composting toilet’.
I found many reasons to give a shit about sanitation upon receiving my intimate and disgusting divine intervention and I began to research ecological and regenerative sanitation models. The best reference material I have found is the ‘Humanure Handbook’ by Joseph Jenkins (not to be confused with jenkum).
Once I reconnected with my poop and the magical set of alchemical digestive organs in my body, it became much easier to start giving a shit about what I put into my body. For instance, having an intimate relationship with your poop (nothing dirty) can help you monitor your daily health, by observing the color and consistency.
This Ascaris Lumbricoides was a shock to see in the toilet back in Nebraska after my first visit to Peru in 2004. I never would have noticed it if I had not become accustomed to peeking at my poop.
Additionally I began giving a shit about where it all goes, which led me to discover how I can give a shit about sanitation in a tangible and constructive way. A passage I read became ingrained in my mind, which compared flush toilets to urinating in a 20-liter water tank and then dumping it out. I soon began to feel uncomfortable pooping into a bowl of clean water, especially in areas where clean water is a scarce and expensive resource.
When I returned to San Francisco the following year I built this urine diverting composting latrine, my only attempt at such a system. While doing my research I read something along the lines of, “If God intended us to mix our poop and urine we would shit like chickens”, which convinced me at the time to give it a try.
Later research and experience led me focus on well-designed double-vault systems with dry organic cover material. The urine can actually help create and maintain a thermophilic composting environment that can thoroughly breakdown and treat poop by naturally heating it up around 50°-70°C. After a period of 7-9 months, the resulting decomposed material is thus a viable and very nutrient rich fertilizer.
I first built this double-vault latrine behind my house in San Francisco and then Roberto Muñoz built another a few years later in Nuevo Egipto, at Alianza Arkana’s first Bena Nii permaculture demonstration farm.
Since then we have built a total of 140 composting latrines, 39 in public places and 101 Shipibo families, with 30 more to build for 30 more families to finish out the year, thanks in a large part to The Temple of the Way of Light, USAID, The Casper Family Foundation, and UNICEF-Perú.
Today, Orestes Rengifo and his team of 5 Shipibo carpenters are building 3 different models of the latrine that are adapted to the jungle environment and assist families that live in low and high flood planes with elevated and floating latrines.
Additionally, a washing and bathing platform is built above a banana circle grey-water garden next to the latrine to improve hygiene, and rainwater collectors are installed for families without access to well water. All of these components create a complete ecological bathroom with water, bathtub, and toilet all-in-one.
Orestes and myself are also sharing our knowledge and lending technical support and assistance for the construction of 152 public and family latrines in the District Municipalities of Indiana and Amazonas, with UNICEF. By helping to give others a safe and clean place to shit, we actively, and quite literally, give a shit about sanitation, on World Toilet Day and every other day.
Now when the President calls, we can say we are making our daily deposits in the Farmers Credit Union.
Please note that for a minimum donation of $25 USD, you can join the next on-line ten day course about eco-sanitation on Alianza Arkana’s learning community, called ‘Give a Shit’, starting November 22nd 2016. Please donate here: