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A Ghanaian Toilet Experience

A VIP pit latrine in rural Ghana
A VIP pit latrine in rural Ghana

It's not every day I find myself in a position where I'm peeing in someone's backyard, but there I was.

I recently went to Ghana on a work trip and found myself in rural communities, needing a toilet. Some of the communities where I visited were lucky enough to have relatively nice toilets - like the one pictured. In technical words, we call this a VIP latrine; in human words, it's often a room with a hole in the ground with a ventilation system that helps minimize flies and smell.

One of the days in the field, I was not so lucky, and I had to urinate. I was ushered to a roofless wall that spiraled enough to create a room. The room was simply a floor, and the wall had a hole in the side. Whatever I did in that room, I would need to use some water to rinse it off of the floor, and into the hole it would go - onto an uncovered stream into someone's backyard.

I was fortunate to only need to urinate in private, but unfortunately this toilet would contribute to the unfortunate public health consequences of open defecation - exposed feces and other human waste so easily accessible in rural communities like this one leads to people getting sick with diarrhea (or worse).

Trips like these remind me why I'm passionate about making sure people understand why toilets are important, and figuring out how to make sure communities everywhere can safely take care of business without hurting themselves or others.


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