The Best Bathroom Ever?

Written by Plant With Purpose on June 22, 2011 in General

by Aly Lewis

The last few weeks I have had the privilege of traveling around Guatemala with an amazing group of students from Point Loma Nazarene University, as well as some good friends. My next few blog posts will highlight how some of my experiences have deepened my understanding and appreciation for Plant With Purpose’s transformational work. The following post refers to an experience I had when we visited the beautiful city of Chichicastenango (I think one of my favorite things about Guatemala are the city names), where we partnered with a local church to implement various ministry projects. After a week of service in the community we celebrated with an all-church hike and picnic, where this story unfolds.

I hopped from one foot to the other in a five-year-old “I have to pee” dance. My shirt stuck sweaty to my back where my backpack had pressed in on our hike down the steep ravine to a rushing river and, oddly enough, a man-made swimming pool and picnic area—the final destination of the all-church get together we had been looking forward to all week.  I searched the clearing for signs of an enclosed bathroom or outhouse. As I braced myself for another squat in the woods experience I mumbled and wondered to myself, “Don’t they ever have to go to the bathroom?”

Then I spotted it, a wooden outhouse glowing miraculously down by the river. I grabbed a teammate and we headed out to the rustic facilities. When we reached the outhouse, I scooted quickly inside only to realize the sound of the river was amplified in the shack-like building. Confused, I peered reluctantly into the hole for the toilet and found myself staring down at the river flowing by.

“We’re over the river!” I exclaimed.

“Sweet!” replied my teammate as she rushed in. “This is the best bathroom ever!”

Instantly, questions of sanitation and watersheds and water supplies flooded into my brain and—almost—overpowered my bodily need to use this water front bathroom. But in the end biology won out and I did my best to banish haunting visions of contamination and disease and just be thankful that I didn’t have to sneak off into the woods again.

Throughout my trip, I’ve been humbled by the realization that my traveler’s irritation—how am I supposed to stay hydrated when bathrooms are harder to find than pick up soccer games?—is actually a much bigger issue of sanitation and health—of the land and the people.

Beauty must really be in the eye of the beholder, because these past few weeks I have fallen in love with the idea of Plant With Purpose’s ecological latrines. These bathrooms, though lacking the coolness factor of a scenic river outhouse, are an incredible way for impoverished communities to reduce ground water contamination and keep their streams and water supply clean—perhaps the reason for this picnic area’s man-made pool? Cleaner water means less risk of water-born disease and disease spread by latrine pests, improving the health of a village. These latrines take what would otherwise be hazardous waste and transform it into a valuable agricultural input that farmers can use to nourish their farms and fields.  Improved health and recycling and sustainable agriculture and poverty alleviation all in one? Sorry river restroom, it sounds to me like these ecological latrines may take the lead for best bathroom ever.

To help a community around the world receive training and materials to build one of the best bathrooms ever that will improve community health and sanitation click here.

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