Henri Christophe’s palace of Sans Souci had a surprising sophisticated water system. Indeed, the king used water diverted from the mountain rains to flush his toilet. Then, the water ran into the valley below and down the mountainside where a trail of vegetation and flowers blossomed.
Sasha Kramer and Sarah Brownell did not know that story when they went to the Northern area of Haiti. They are two American aid workers who have formed a group called SOIL [Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods], a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes to resources in Haiti
These two young ladies believe that “the path to sustainability is through transformation of both disempowered people and discarded materials, turning apathy into empowerment and pollution into valuable resources”. For them, “SOIL promotes integrated approaches to the problem of poverty, poor public health, agriculture productivity and environmental destruction”.
Realizing that Haiti’s two greatest problems were soil infertility and water contamination, they attacked them both with one simple technology, the composting toilet that offers a way out, providing both a clean (and private) place to collect waste, and a source of badly needed fertilizer. The structures can be made inexpensively using local materials and are able to produce sterile fertilizer in one year’s time
Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, went to Haiti and wrote about their accomplishments. In his column, March 28, 2009, he wrote: “As Haitians in America lose their jobs and send back less money, we’re already seeing rising malnutrition in Haitian slums. Yet I also look at a happier side of the picture, and so I focus for the latter part of the column on a couple of American aid workers who have formed a group called SOIL that tries to turn human waste into fertilizer.
“The aim is to improve sanitation and public health while also improving agricultural yields. I’ve been interested in sanitation for years and more recently have been engaged in the question of how to improve crops in poor countries, so SOIL struck me as a particularly intriguing effort to address two challenges with a single solution. I was also impressed with Sasha and Sarah and their commitment to Haiti; you can see a video of them here”.
In that video, Kristof visited the toilet installations and commented that “although there is a smell, it does not stink like some public toilets in the United States”. Anyway, the community keeps the installations clean and do not mind the half dozen steps that lead to specially built unit that separate liquid and solid wastes.
Sasha and Sarah are planning the establishment of a SOIL/SOL Municipal Composting Site they consider a key component to their mission of transforming wastes and completing natural nutrient cycle. They said, “The goal of the site is to turn organic wastes from city neighborhoods that normally be left to pollute streets and water supplies, into fertilizers for use by rural farmers”.
They also said that, ”We attempt to nurture collective creativity through developing collaborative relationship between community organizations in Haiti and academics and activists internationally”. Their motto is: “Empowering communities, building the soil, nourishing the grassroots”.
Their call was heard in these United States by graduate students and professors from University of California Santa Cruz, Stanford University, University of Miami, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and some others”.
Kristof said that “Sasha and Sarah do host groups of visitors, mostly students but not exclusively, so if you’re interested in helping build toilets in Haiti, you can contact them at their website, www.oursoil.org”. They will be featured in the April 2009 issue of National Geographic.
However, it is surprising that, in Haiti, students from the School of Agriculture and the Faculty of Sciences, at least, do not seem to have visited the SOIL projects. Let’s hope that they will read this editorial and after learning in more details about SOIL and see its community accomplishments in Northern areas of the country, they may want to undertake similar initiatives in their birth places for the benefit of the rural population.
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