BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo — The 12 new toilets at Institute Katuze Secondary School do more than prevent disease better than the two old pit toilets they replaced. They also reduce violence and increase school attendance.
Wearing their blue-and-white uniforms, several students gathered in February near the new handwashing station and the latrines at their school in the village of Mosho II.
“The toilets before were in poor condition,” said Ariette Buhoro Muderwa, who is in 12th grade. “It was difficult to keep them clean. Because of the way they were built, you could easily fall in. They were not covered, just open.”
Holes dug in the ground were each between 3 and 9 feet deep with planks of wood laid across them. An opening was cut in the middle to make a wooden squatting toilet, explained Principal Pascal Birhahwa Muhindo.
There were no walls or roof.
“When it was raining, the wood would move and there was a possibility of someone falling in the hole,” he said.
Sometimes the rotting wood would break under the weight of the person using the toilet.
Falling in wasn’t the only problem. Toilets overflowed when it rained a lot, and worms congregated, infecting children through their feet. Snakes, too, surprised people using the toilets, slithering in from the nearby grass.
“And when people were passing by, they could see someone on the toilet,” said 10th-grader Emmanuel Muhasha Bisimwa, “so there was no privacy.”
And there was no place to wash hands before going back to school.
Those problems have been eliminated with the construction of new latrines and a new rainwater catchment system that provides water for cleaning hands and toilets.
Each new pit toilet was dug deeper — 21 to 24 feet deep — and covered with a 6-inch concrete base and a porcelain squatting toilet that can be sanitized. The toilets are enclosed in a small building with walls, a door and a roof.
Not only did the secondary school benefit, but so did the neighboring primary school, a Mennonite Brethren church plant and 80 households in Mosho II and Mosho III villages.
Mennonite Central Committee provided the resources through its partner, 4ème Communauté des Eglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo (4th CEFMC; Fourth Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo).
Attendance of high school girls has increased since the new toilets were built, said Muhindo, who acknowledged girls are marginalized in the community and often exposed to sexual violence.
“Having toilets to protect them actually invites girls to come to this school,” he said.
Protection from illness
The toilets and water for washing hands also offer protection from illness, including cholera, typhoid fever, intestinal illnesses and malaria.
“This type of basic infrastructure for safe handwashing and waste disposal is also essential for preventing the spread of new infectious diseases like COVID-19, which is now spreading rapidly in DR Congo,” said Paul Shetler Fast, MCC’s health coordinator.
Cholera has been a problem in the Mosho villages, where flies spread diseases from toilets. Sewage from overflowing toilets contaminated water used for drinking. Handwashing was not common. Open toilets are breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can carry malaria.
Evangelists from 4th CEFMC, who were planting a church in Mosho, realized something needed to be done as they witnessed children dying from cholera. Two teenage girls drowned in Lake Kivu, where they went to collect water.
In 2017 the church, with MCC’s support, began building latrines and rainwater catchment systems and offering hygiene training.
The most vulnerable families were chosen to receive these resources. Jacques Safari Lukwebo and Floride Murhimanya M’nkwale, an elderly married couple who have health conditions that limit mobility, were among those selected.
Water that falls on their rooftop now drains into a large rain barrel inside their house, making it easier for M’nkwale to cook and wash.
She could no longer walk to the spring, wait in long lines and carry a five-gallon jerrycan full of water to her house.
“The water in the house helps me a lot,” she said. “My neighbors who don’t have any, I share with them.”
Down the road live Benedicte Fadzili Bugogero, his three youngest sisters and his blind grandmother. The new systems have improved the family’s health.
“We suffered from malaria, fever and diarrhea,” he said. “Since this project, we haven’t had those diseases.”