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Will you buy a toilet?

Creative promotion of toilets and health in Uganda: BMS World Mission worker Tim Darby is on it

You’re in East Africa. How would you convince someone to buy a toilet? Well, more accurately, a latrine slab. That’s the puzzling question that ran through Tim Darby’s head in the midst of his work as a BMS project manager for a sanitation project in Uganda. After Tim helped train and equip nine groups to sell latrine slabs in their local villages, he knew how important it would be to get the word out to local communities.

A toilet is not a glamourous product, but it is a very important one that can lead to better overall health in rural communities in places like Uganda. It is very common for people to rely on toilet seats made of twigs and mud over pit latrines. Such toilets put people more at risk of diarrhoea-related diseases like cholera and parasites like hookworm. According to the World Health Organisation, diarrhoeal diseases are currently the fourth leading cause of death in Uganda. So, really, something as simple as a toilet has the power to save lives.

Back to Tim’s question: how did he convince people to buy toilets in Uganda? The answer turned out to be a drama, loud music and local leaders extolling the reasons why having a latrine slab is so important. Tim organised a social marketing experience to encourage better health in the community, as well as promoting the latrine slab businesses. Besides being entertained, people got a chance to learn about specific health benefits, how affordable a latrine slab is (about the cost of a chicken, it turns out) and how it is much safer for small children to use.

The most exciting part of the day was the drama performed by four youths that Tim recruited from Gulu Baptist Church. They entertained the crowd while also stressing the value of owning your own latrine slab to about 100 people, which included a local pastor and community leaders.

“This was the first time we’d tried something like this,” says Tim. “Sanitation projects are notoriously difficult to get people to buy into, but this was very well received."

It was a nice step forward for the sanitation project, but there is still work to do. There are eleven more groups that will be trained to make their own latrine slabs and run their own businesses in their villages. It’s a wonderfully sustainable plan placing power in the hands of Ugandans to run their own businesses and giving community members in rural villages easy access to affordable latrine slabs. Everybody wins!

Part of Tim’s role as project manager is helping to train community members in each group. Tim believes that faith plays an important role in this process.

“There are many Christians in the area where I live and work in Gulu District,” says Tim. “And I see a great need for discipleship.”

Alongside teaching people how to make and sell latrine slabs, the training groups spend time doing a Bible study and devotions each day.

Through this practical training and faith development, Tim recognises that the ultimate goal is to empower Christians to help their communities.

“It’s about developing an expression of the local churches,” says Tim. “A lot of development projects have the tendency to point back to the organisation involved, but that’s not our goal.
We want to point back to the local churches in order to glorify God.”

Pray for the success of the new latrine slab businesses. Pray that the people see the value of the business and the community will be receptive. Also pray that the Church is empowered and faith continues to grow throughout communities.

This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission.   

BMS World Mission, 05/08/2016
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