We Dig Practical Sanitation Solutions

Santa Rosita de Tamaya Tipishca is on its way to becoming the first Shipibo community with full ecological sanitation.

Located 7 hours by boat north of the city of Pucallpa on the Abujao River, Sta. Rosita will soon have double-vault composting latrines, banana circle grey water gardens, bathing and washing platforms for each of its 34 family homes. Additionally, the health post, preschool, and community meeting space will each have a latrine and banana circle to serve the school children, visitors, and the public at large.

Due to this community’s distance from the city, Alianza Arkana’s project coordinators noted that the population there still holds firmly the traditional cultural value of collective work and that they continue to operate on the barter economy. Last week, Shipibo project coordinators Rebeca Melendez, Daniel Gonzales, and Orestes Rengifo traveled to the community with the first 9 “kits” to build the banana circles and washing platforms. With all the wood already cut to size, the community came together in a collective workday called a minga (from the Andean highlands Quechua word Mink’a).

bathing platform beforebanana circle and washing station

They were able to assemble the platforms, install the water faucets, and plant the grey water gardens with bananas, lemon grass, local cilantro, sweet potato, and hot and sweet pepper varieties. The community has also requested some cherry tomato varieties they saw growing in the demonstration site at Alianza Arkana’s offices (and which they thought were delicious!), which we will happily be bringing them later this month.

The bananas thrive on the phosphates in the soapy water from showers and clothes-washing, soaking up the contaminants and purifying the water, together with the magic of compost breaking down organic matter from each family’s yard and kitchen. The resulting solid and liquid organic fertilizer then feeds the rest of this greywater cleansing horticulture system. The fruits from these crops are still apt for human consumption, and as an added bonus the banana circle also produces enough compost that can be harvested to feed fruit trees and other crops grown around the house.

One community elder remarked upon observing the work being done, “That’s practical.” We feel that succinctly sums up our approach: simple, bottom-up, practical solutions. Brian Best, who started designing these culturally-relevant systems over a decade ago, reacted to this moment of acknowledgment and praise by saying, “I hadn’t eaten all day, but hearing that right there gave me the boost I needed to keep going. That was one of those moments, you know? That’s what it’s all about: seeing others realize the benefits of practical development.”

esalud poibeautiful latrine

All of this has been made possible with the support of UNICEF, Fundación Aquae and the Provincial Municipality of Coronel Portillo who also recognized the benefits of Alianza Arkana’s projects in ecological sanitation and decided to partner with us to scale up our efforts this year. Members of UNICEF-Peru and UNICEF-Spain – representing Fundación Aquae, visited these projects last week and were impressed by the community’s enthusiasm for collaboratively implementing these systems. Santa Rosita will be the first to receive full ecological sanitation, but there are plans to expand to at least 3 more rural communities this year. We are additionally seeking support from other local and international stakeholders to bring these affordable and pragmatic systems to 3 urban and 3 semi-urban Shipibo communities whose populations are quickly expanding with very limited sanitation support from local governments.

Yesterday we received word from the field that community members were inaugurating their first latrines and wash stations. How? By practicing the ceremonial ship launching tradition of breaking a bottle of champagne and cheering! While these new latrines are not the raft-like floating models that we also build, they are built on platforms to keep the composting organic matter out of the rising floodwaters, and out of harms way. It is with great pride and joy that we begin this New Year celebrating clean and healthy community-based solutions with our Shipibo family and partners.

Posted by Lily Hollister, Tuesday, 13 January 2015

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