With sleepy eyes Duarte comes out of the bedroom and cuddles up to his mother’s lap. The 7-year old just had his regular after-school nap. “I’m very happy when I have my two children around. For me it is most important that they are happy and healthy”, says Imaculada, Duarte’s mother, and smiles. It is also because of their children that Imaculada and her husband have recently decided to build their first toilet.
It was just normal for us to relieve ourselves in the open air
“It was just normal for us to relieve ourselves in the open air. But now we have learned more about open defecation and that it can be very bad for your health and especially the health of your children. So we decided that we now want to have a toilet, too”, explains Imaculada, 25.
Open Defecation and its Risks
Here in Timor-Leste, having a Toilet is nothing self-evident. Especially in the rural areas, one third of the population is still practicing Open Defecation. Nationwide not even 50 percent of all households are using improved sanitation facilities – with severe consequences. Poor sanitation often leads to diseases like diarrhoea and intestinal worm infections, diarrhoea being the second highest contributor to child mortality in Timor-Leste. Furthermore studies have shown that higher stunting rates correspond to higher open defecation rates, especially among children.
Duarte and his family are living in the municipality of Aileu. The municipality has one important goal: Making Aileu open defecation free (ODF). Plan International is working closely together with the municipal administration, local partner organizations and communities themselves to spread information about the risks of open defecation, the benefits of having a toilet, and to provide technical advice about how to actually build a toilet.
“We have come very far, but we are not there yet. At this point 92 percent of all households in Aileu Municipality have a toilet. But of course we want to reach 100 percent”, says John McGown, Programme Manager at Plan International Timor-Leste.
Working Together to Reach the Goal
For many citizens it is encouraging to work on this common goal together. “Our neighbours helped us build the toilet”, tells Duarte’s father Abel. “We dug a really deep hole, bought some materials, but also used leftover material for the walls to save money. And after one week our toilet was ready.”
Especially as a woman, I feel safer now
For Imaculada the benefits of the new toilet are clear. “It is good to have privacy when going to the toilet. Especially as a woman, I feel safer now. But most important is that it benefits my children’s health”, she explains.
Little Duarte seems proud when he tells that he can already use the new toilet on his own. And with a shy smile he says: “I like the toilet. And I like that it now never smells bad around our house.”
This project is supported by the Australian Government’s Partnership for Human Development Programme.