Recently, we sat down the the team from C-re-a.i.d., an NGO based right here in Moshi, Tanzania! C-re-a.i.d. (Change -REsearch -Architecture -Innovation -Design)is a Tanzanian and Belgian registered nonprofit organisation that conducts research by design on the possibilities of architecture. This is accomplished by different branches of C-re-aid, including fieldwork, organizing construction, empowering local craftsmen and receiving students of architecture, interior architecture, engineering, product design.
C-re-aid seeks to understand what the possibilities of architecture – as a material and social change of cultural and socially meaningful design – can mean for people who are “vulnerable by material conditions”. Architectural interventions, as conducted by the organization, aim to have an impact through the process of a project and change the material environment. With these changes the organization strives to affect not only the physical, built environment but also the social environment, and by that, social health which includes self-esteem and self-respect.C-re-aid hosts a group of international architects who put their heads together to create smart, modern and innovative designs. Special attention is given to the inventive use of local materials and specific building techniques to keep the cost of the building affordable.
The current toilet blocks at the school, although structurally intact, have several issues concerning security, privacy and hygiene that make an intervention necessary. The level of cleanliness is very poor, and since no running water is available at the toilets, children have to carry buckets from the nearby well. The quality of the water extracted from the well is another reason of concern since it is not potable and potentially unsafe.
Secondly, the current latrine pits are in severe conditions, with portions of them completely collapsed!
Thirdly, neither the block nor the individual cubicles have doors, seemingly because they have been stolen. This causes significant privacy and security concerns for both pupils and teaching staff, particularly female students.
Finally, no soap or hand washing facilities – e.g. sinks, taps or small tanks – are available inside or near the blocks.
These, together with other minor details, are the major issues that the new design had to face to improve the current conditions, for both boys and girls’ toilets.
The design process for the toilets is based on several meetings in which different issues are dealt with and debated in a participatory way. We established a committee of students from all classes to represent the needs and wishes of the students in our planning meetings.
During these meetings, we divided the students up by gender and had long discussions with them about their needs, and how they imagined the toilet block to look like. This process gives them ownership over the project to increase sustainability, and ensures that local needs are being met.
It was using this process that our team decided on the main floor plan of the toilet block, as well as the importance of a changing room for the female students.
With this information, C-re-aid started designing the blocks and presented the result in a final meeting to receive feedback and understand the reactions of the participants before finalizing the project and take it to the construction phase.
Throughout the different sessions, the main requests made by the girls regarded security, privacy and hygiene issues. Specifically, they asked for lockable doors, tap water and sinks to wash their hands and the floor, the use of a hard material for floors (especially easy to keep clean) and the provision of mirrors above the sinks. Moreover, they insisted that the location and the orientation of their block had to allow privacy from the rest of the school and especially from the boys’ toilets block.
4. What is the significance of having a changing room?
The changing room is fundamental to manage girls’ menstruation safely and hygienically. One of the issues with poor sanitation facilities is that girls don’t have a space to wash themselves, change their sanitary pads or dispose of them appropriately. For this reason, they often miss school during their menstrual period or have to carry the dirty pads all day long once removed. The changing room will be an additional separate space inside the toilets block, which will provide privacy and a tap for running water that will be used for washing purposes and to clean the pads if reusable. A trash bin will be also added so that disposable pads can be safely thrown away and collected weekly to be burnt.
For both boys and girls, an appropriate facility will provide a safe and clean space to go to the toilet and follow hygienic behaviors. This has direct effects on the experience, which will be more comfortable and feel more secure, thanks to the cleanliness, ventilation, absence of odors and flies, presence of doors and hand washing sinks that are included in the design. Furthermore, a proper sanitation facility can be used as an opportunity to reflect on hygiene practices and apply them correctly, providing an educational outcome apart from the more practical advantages discussed above. For girls in particular, the privacy that the toilets will provide, together with the availability of a changing room, will hopefully improve significantly the feeling of comfort and security and allow them to manage their menstrual period easily and hygienically.