My main project right now is building latrines. This may seem like something pretty basic idea, and it is, but it's complicated by the fact that if one simply "digs a hole" the hole floods with water during the rainy season and makes it much less pleasant to swim in the river. So as an alternative to having a really stinky lawn, a lot of the people just head to the jungle to do their business. Having a sanitary "facility" to fulfill ones necessities would be high on the priority list when building a house. However, people get accustomed to doing things a certain way, and won't change unless someone show's them a more attractive alternative. Enter Peace Corps volunteer.
I've been promoting a composting latrine. The Peace Corps model here in Panama is basically 2 cement boxes side by side above ground. This makes it a much larger latrine, the basic hole in the ground. The user uses one box for a year, and then the other box for the next year, adding sawdust, rice husks, or ash everytime they make unkaka. As one side is used the other is composting. If done properly, by the time it's time to use the first side again, the contents are completely processed, parasites have been killed and you can shovel out the "fertlizer" to feed your crops. In explaining this to the people of my community, this is where I lost them. You want me to "take out the unkaka". Thinking about it, this is a very reasonable reaction. So I built myself one to prove to the community, and myself that this isn't gross. I changed the design however. I built a wooden "box", On top of this box I have my a platform with a "seat". When this box fills up, I will simply build another box. The platform and walls disassemble to be moved to the new location, and the box is covered for compost magic to happen. When it's ready, a tree is planted in the box and the latrine is converted to planter filled with rich organic fertilzer.
-requires less material "mine was built completely with used lumber, costing me a total of $8 for the nails and toilet seat."
-allows fertilizer to be used in a safe manner providing nutrients for a fruit producing tree.
-will not contaminate the local water
-minimizes handeling of unkaka
-complements the seminomadic lifestyle of the embera
-is designed as a cradle to cradle system
I know pictures would be helpful in a post like this, and I'll see what I can do, for the next time I post, but with updates on other projects I'm working on.