Several years ago, during a visit to the community of Yana Rumy, in Cuchumuela, Bolivia, to celebrate the groundbreaking for household toilet constructions, I needed to go to the bathroom myself. I asked Liboria, the closest woman to me, if she would show me where she went to the bathroom so I could use it. We scurried uphill from the adobe homes for a good ten minutes until we were well-hidden in the pine forests that surround the community. I was able to do my deed in the privacy of the woods, and scramble back downhill. Twenty minutes round trip to go pee. I pee several times a day, as do most humans, meaning Liboria and other women in Yana Rumy were potentially spending hours just walking to go pee. There are over 120 million people in Latin America who don’t have a toilet –meaning billions of hours are spent looking for places to go, especially for women. Not time well spent.
I am with Liboria again this week in Ecuador, where Water For People-Bolivia and her community are receiving a prize for the toilet-based business that sprung up from that initial toilet construction several years ago. The composting toilets that Liboria and her neighbors built-with a little help from Water For People and the local government- now save them that 20 minute trip to go to the bathroom and provide a safe, clean, private place to take care of their basic needs. But on top of that, they have managed to find a way to re-use the liquid wastes from the toilets in an income generating activity. Fermented urine is used as a fertilizer on pine saplings, which are then planted in those surrounding hills that used to serve as the community toilet. Under those pine trees grow a type of shitake mushroom that is highly demanded in Bolivia and surrounding countries. The going rate for a pound of potatoes is one Boliviano –the equivalent of $0.15. But a pound of these ‘shrooms go for FORTY times as much at forty Bolivianos (just under $6USD).
Instead of scrambling up and down steep paths to go the bathroom, Liboria now can spend time collecting and packaging a source of income for her and her family. Time very well spent-so well that today she is representing her community at an international event to honor their creative, innovative solution.
Liboria explaining how they use fermented urine for fertilizer to grow more pine trees to have more mushrooms to harvest.