Elliott Skopin is a graduate of Wesleyan University where he attended school with MSG’s Executive Director, Max Perel-Slater. After working for several years after college, Elliott decided that he wanted to travel the world and made Shirati one of his stops. While in Shirati, he took on the Arborloo toilet project as a volunteer. Enjoy his blog about his experiences working with the MSG staff!
If you have passed by Maji Safi Group’s office recently, you likely noticed a few new things – the Arborloo toilet standing in the side yard and a number of freshly poured concrete structures curing nearby. These items comprise the beginnings of an exciting project that will provide an affordable, long-lasting pit toilet alternative to members of the Shirati community.
What is an Arborloo Toilet?
An Arborloo toilet is comprised of a reusable concrete base, known as the ring beam and slab, and a portable latrine structure. The ring beam and slab – simple, inexpensive and durable constructions made from poured concrete and wire reinforcement – cap a shallow (1-2 meter) pit in which human waste is deposited. The four-walled latrine structure provides privacy and is intended to be moved and reused, along with the concrete components, when the hole is filled. However, the capped pit does not simply lay fallow. The composted waste provides a fertile plot in which a tree will thrive, hence the “arbor” (“tree” in Spanish) in Arborloo. The benefits of this system are numerous: It is inexpensive and simple to produce using readily available materials, the portable design is intended to last for many applications, and the composted human waste provides excellent fertilizer for a fruit-bearing tree or other planting.
During my 6-week stay in Shirati, I had the opportunity to assist in the design and construction of the first Arborloo toilet at Maji Safi Group’s office. We benefited from valuable feedback from our community health educators, other staff, and members of the community as we worked on this first construction. We found that the concrete slab and ring beam, which have a fixed design, are reasonably easy to produce. The design of the outhouse structure, however, allowed for greater creativity and provided more of a design challenge. I very much enjoyed the collaborative task of finding a creative and affordable solution. In the end, we opted to construct the walls of Maji Safi Group’s latrine out of a variety of materials, including one section that is comprised of hundreds of plastic bottles picked up from the neighboring streets. The design options are endless, and it will be exciting to see the ingenuity employed by those who construct Shirati’s newest Arborloo toilets in the coming months.
The Arborloo project is in large part due to the generous fundraising by students at Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado (Read Blog Here). Nearly a dozen new concrete structures are finished and will be transported to the homes of our community health educators whose families will be using their new Arborloo toilets in no time! Their valuable feedback will allow Maji Safi Group to refine the design and share the benefits of this system with the greater community. Before long, healthy fruit trees will stand where these first Arborloo toilets were sited.
A big thanks to everyone at Maji Safi Group for their fantastic work in getting this project off the ground and for making my time in Shirati so wonderful.