November 20, 2012 5:14 pm

On Building a Bathroom

Luis and I took a short bus ride from Riobamba. The rhythmic rocking of the behemoths they call buses here was still enough to induce both of us into a brief slumber. After thirty minutes and a brisk walk through a few uneven cobblestone streets, we reached a tall iron gate that sat guarding a small school. On the side of the school facing the street it read “Escuela Mariana Borja” in black, capital letters.

We had arrived. To look at a bathroom. 

colta construction toolsIt wasn't yet a bathroom per se -- it was a patch of grass and a pile of rubble from which we were going to begin building one. Sanitation projects for MEDLIFE Ecuador are some of the most important community projects for providing sustained health care. This school sits in the Cajabamba community in Colta, a primarily indigenous and rural population. Rural and lower-class regions like these have the worst access to proper sanitation facilities in the country. Without hygienic separation from fecal matter, it can often lead to infections and diarrhea that is life-threatening, especially for younger children. 

Escuela Mariana Borja is overflowing with children between first and sixth grade. Once you're inside, dark orange and ochre walls form semi-outdoor hallways. Children duck and giggle behind pillars. A cement rectangle forms a small soccer field in the center of the compound, where young boys scrabble over a well-worn ball. 

Colta-school-childrenThe need for the bathroom project was obvious. The current situation involves three stalls for boys and three for girls. There are over 200 students. When we spoke with the principal and some school children, they told us that often the smaller children get pushed out of the long lines for the bathroom during recesses by the older students. They hardly get to wash their hands, let alone relieve themselves. 

But the school day must go on. Children in a fourth grade science class were excitedly slapping bright red paint onto papier mâché volcanoes in makeshift streams of lava. First graders were practicing their letters in small marble notebooks in an impressive concentrated silence. 

On November 7th, the bathroom construction site was a pile of cinderblocks, a few scattered indigenous women volunteers from the community, and the skeleton of an old metal swing-set. By November 16th, a frame of the new stalls was erected in gray cinderblock, and a volunteer group was busily installing piping and supports on the roof. The project is slated for completion by November 26th.

Rachel Hoffman is a MEDLIFE media intern based in Riobamba, Ecuador

MEDLIFE works with local authorities and community members to aid those most in need.  Hygiene Projects encompass the construction of latrines, waste disposal systems, handwashing stations, and other structures.  We also implement proper hygiene education and provide check-ups and medical treatment for the community during our Mobile Clinics.  Our aim is to provide a clean and safe learning environment for students and teachers in rural and low-income communities so that they may continue their education with dignity.

In January of 2011, MEDLIFE completed another Hygiene Project in the jungle community of 21 de Enero of Tena, Ecuador. Read below to learn more about the project: 

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21 de Enero is a community belonging to the district of Archidona, a 30-minute drive in the sticky jungle heat from the larger city of Tena, Ecuador. The remote community has only one school, which serves 56 children, ages 5 to 12. After local government workers signaled that the school was in great need of improved sanitation, MEDLIFE staff members drove out to see how they could help.

 

They encountered poor and insufficient hygiene facilities due to the fact that 56 students and four teachers had to share a single toilet. Children would often tire of waiting and just relieve themselves outside while teachers reported occasionally making themselves sick by waiting until they got home to use the bathroom. The tiny stall was also a dangerous potential source of parasites and bacteria.

 

Calling on the help of students from UNE, Berkeley, FIU, Miami, Cornell, Claremont, Syracuse, and Johns Hopkins, MEDLIFE staff and volunteers completed a larger and more sanitary bathroom for the community over the span of 10 days. The improved facility has two separate stalls and a wash station to help combat the spread of infectious disease. Says school director Elsa Astudillo, “I feel proud to have these new bathrooms.”

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