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Mali, a West African nation of 10 million people, is on the edge of the Sahara desert. It is a very poor country; with an average GNI of $240, labor is cheap and mechanized equipment is very expensive.

For the vast majority of Malians, who live in the rural areas, amenities such as plumbing and sanitation, are just not financially accessible. Water supplies are scarce adn need to be protected; one of the most common hazardous contaminants is human waste. Without proper sanitation facilities, villagers have no choice but to relieve themselves out in the open.

Pit latrines are not outrageously expensive; cultural acceptance and information are the biggest hurdles to their proliferation.

In my home village of Bounguel, we organized a latrine introduction project. The villagers contributed the sand, gravel, labor and half of the cost of the cement; the project (funded by the Peace Corps SPA program) paid for the other half of the cement. This small incentive encouraged the villagers to participate; a larger subsidy would have set an unrealistic precedent and endangered future sustainability of the project.

We taught the villagers to:

  • choose a location;
  • dig to the proper depth;
  • mix the cement for the bricks;
  • mold, cure and lay the bricks;
  • cast the reinforced slab;
  • maintain the latrine.
Making cinder blocks on-site.
Laying the blocks in the latrine pit.
Laying out the rebar for the slab.
The entire village participates in the work.