NAIROBI, KENYA – Sludge fills the rough and dusty road leading to the Mukuru slums, a combination of eight villages located east of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
In one area of the road, a big crater holds a combination of waste and 3-day-old rainwater – signs of improper drainage systems. Pedestrians walk along narrow edges on both sides of the road, while motorists have no choice but to drive through the water.
Thousands of small shacks made of rusty iron sheets squeeze closely together in the slum. Smelly water from households flows through the narrow streets, which are congested with people. The water drains into small local rivers.
But in one of the slum’s villages, Mukuru kwa Ruben, bright blue toilets stand conspicuously in the streets. The toilets are made of concrete slabs with metal doors emblazoned with their name, “Fresh Life,” and “CHOO,” the word for “toilet” in Swahili.
The toilets don’t use running water, but there is no stench. Each toilet has two shallow bowls, one each for solid and liquid waste. The waste drains through holes in the bowls to separate containers below.
Lucia Kambua, a mother of two and casual worker at a nearby industrial area, has lived in Mukuru kwa Ruben for 11 years. She says that the Fresh Life Toilets opened in her neighborhood during August 2012.
Before then, she and her children didn’t use toilets to relieve themselves.
“The only toilet that was close to my house was about half a kilometer away,” Kambua says. “It was very dirty.”
It also cost 5 shillings (6 cents) each for her and her children to use.
So instead, she used to go to the bathroom in the trenches outside her house.
“I used to wait until dusk to relieve myself,” she says. “As for the children, they would use plastic bags, and we would throw the waste into the trenches.”
But the new Fresh Life Toilets are closer, cheaper and cleaner than other bathrooms in the slum, Kambua says. Adults pay 4 shillings (4 cents) to use the toilets, while children pay 2 shillings (2 cents).
They are open from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. and have lights. Kambua says she is happy that she can make her last visit just before she goes to bed.
Kambua says her neighborhood is clean from waste since the Fresh Life Toilets opened. People no longer defecate in the streets because the new toilets are affordable, accessible and clean.
A lack of sanitation poses health issues for residents of the Mukuru slums. But a pilot program is changing that in one of the slums, where a company is selling toilets to improve access to sanitation. Buying and running these toilets also offers business opportunities to entrepreneurs living in the slum. In addition, the company collects the waste and processes it into organic fertilizer to sell to local farmers. It plans to expand the program across Kenya.
About 60 percent of Nairobi’s population lives in slum