Posted by Michael Duffield on March 19th 2009 in Organizations, Volunteers Edit

Jeff Conant went to northern Mozambique on the unusual mission of looking for the world’s simplest effective latrine. He found what might be it, and more surprisingly, he found a truly remarkable musical group, Massukos. Mozambique’s most popular musical group, Massukos sing about sanitation and hygiene, about washing your hands and drinking clean water. Not your typical pop fare, but band leader Feliciano dos Santos is not your typical musician. He is the founder of Estamos, an NGO dedicated to improving sanitation and preventing AIDS in Niassa, the large rural area of northern Mozambique that is his home.

Conant was co-writing the book “A Community Guide to Environmental Health” for the Hesperian Foundation when he went to Niassa. His trip was one of a number of field visits he made as part of his research, seeking examples of successfully functioning sanitation projects. He had come to Niassa to see a dry latrine system in use locally. Santos was one of Conant’s guides who showed him the simple but very effective toilets which Estamos was promoting and installing.

The latrines Santos champions consist of two brick-lined pits with covers. The cement covers have smaller holes cast into them, with easily opened lids, which are the functional openings for the latrines through which waste drops. After each use, a handful of fire ash or dry earth is tossed in to diminish odor and flies. Only one pit at a time is used; when the first pit is filled, it is left closed while other pit is used. While the second pit fills, the feces and ash in the first pit compost, becoming ready to be scooped out and used as fertilizer. The brick lining keeps the feces from contaminating ground water before it composts. And the system has a final advantage – getting ash covered hands reminds a user of the necessity for hand-washing to prevent disease.

Since a solution is only as effective to the degree to which it is used, Santos uses his musical talents to further his community health work. Estamos promotes its initiatives in the usual ways – seminars, notices, t-shirts, brochures, community advocates – but there is nothing like music to really want to gather a crowd and get a message across. This is why Massukos sings about hygiene and AIDS prevention. It is also the reason why, despite wide renown in Europe and Africa, the musicians play to small crowds in remote villages of Mozambique. They choose to do so as a means to get their message across and help the people of Niassa. As for whether it is strange to use music in this way, Santos says that music has always been used to carry messages, a tradition that he continues.

“A Community Guide to Environmental Health” is now available through the Hesperian Foundation’s series of illustrated books on community-based health care. The two-pit dry toilet used in Niassa is one of several designs featured, each offering benefits for different conditions, resources and lifestyles. The book covers why environmental health is important, how communities can protect their resources and what rights they have. It also contains sections on water, trees, food crops, chemicals, mining and oil, and other such issues which affect developing nation communities but about which they have few sources of information. Like all Hesperian books, it is intended to be used by communities themselves, around the world.

Jeff Conant
Hesperian Foundation

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