Neighborhood cleanup, one toilet at a time


March 21, 2012

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  • Neighborhood cleanup, one toilet at a time
  • rrosenberg-2012-indonesia-0024.jpg
    Mr. Ripan is on a mission to educate his village about the health benefits of installing home septic systems with loans from Mercy Corps. Photo: Rae Rosenberg/Mercy Corps Photo: rrosenberg-2012-indonesia-0024.jpg
  • rrosenberg-2012-indonesia-0012.jpg
    Villagers currently use this makeshift "helicopter" toilet over the river, which leaks sewage into homes during heavy rains. Photo: Rae Rosenberg/Mercy Corps Photo: rrosenberg-2012-indonesia-0012.jpg

I recently met Mr. Ripan, a hardworking skilled builder in West Jakarta, Indonesia. He is the Head of Village within the neighborhood of Kali Deres and a big proponent of his community members installing toilets in their homes.

And I could see why when I looked at the makeshift toilet, or “helicopter toilet,” over the river used by the entire village. There is no privacy, and when the river floods, the sewage spreads through the neighborhood, invading gardens, walkways and even the interiors of homes.

But it’s hard for people to make the adjustment to relieving themselves in their home, especially when there hasn’t traditionally been a septic system or removal program to take care of the waste. As contrary as it may seem, using the river is often perceived as the cleaner option.

After installing a toilet and septic tank in his home – one of only a few in the village – Mr. Ripan has been eager to create a local policy to install a standardized septic tank in every new and renovated house within his neighborhood. He is working to educate his neighbors about the benefits of a home septic system and reducing the health risks of using the river. Mr. Ripan intends to hold meetings, hang posters and ask those who have septic tanks to share the benefits with their neighbors.

Mercy Corps is working with a local funding cooperative to issue loans of $170 over 16 months to homeowners wishing to install septic tanks through our urban sanitation program. People say they can afford to pay the $10 a month and are appreciative of the help to improve their health by making proper sanitation available. But it is still hard to find widespread acceptance of the change, which is why advocates like Mr. Ripan are essential to spearhead efforts in their own communities.

I left Kali Deres inspired by Mr. Ripan’s passion, imagining the constant smell of sewage being replaced by the sweet scent of the blossoming pink flowers growing in the entry ways of the small homes.