Myra is a resident of barangay Granada, Carles, an island barangay that can only be accessed through a two-hour ride in a motor boat. She lives in a nipa house with her husband, Domingo, and their four children, two of which still go to grade school.
At 39, Myra confesses that she has only used toilets during her trips to mainland towns and cities where toilets can be accessed in public establishments and in the homes of some their relatives and friends. But in the island, Myra and her family do not own a toilet. More so, about half of her town’s population still practice open defecation.
“Whenever we need to defecate, we usually hide behind thick bushes or big trees but when this happens at night, we defecate by the sea because it would be too dark for us to go elsewhere. At night, when my children would feel afraid to go outside, they would just wait until morning to do it. It is very inconvenient, but we have no other choice because we do not have enough money to construct our own toilets,” shares Myra.
Open defecation is common among far-flung communities, especially in islands where there is very limited sources of table water. This usually results to poor sanitation and hygiene practices of families, including children who are vulnerable to infections and illnesses.
Myra shares: “We know that we can get sick by what we are doing. I even think that this may be the cause why our children get sick at times. But since we have no money, we just kept doing it. Besides, our neighbors are also doing the same thing. We thought that what we were doing is just okay. Fortunately, Save the Children came to our community and taught us proper hygiene practices and gave us materials for the construction of our toilets.”
Through project SPARE, and through the funding of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Save the Children is helping strengthen the capacity of communities (i.e. island barangays of Lantangan, Granada, Gabi, and Asluman in Gigantes, Carles) in preparedness and risk reduction and improve their understanding of nutrition, and water, hygiene and sanitation (WaSH) practices. One of the project’s goals is to ensure that the four barangays will be provided with latrine materials and water and sanitation facilities at both school and household level. By doing so, children and families could eliminate the practice of open defecation.
“When our barangay officials announced that Save the Children will be giving materials for latrine construction, we were very eager to participate because we know that it would be good for us. One of the agreements that we had with the organization was that we will be constructing our own toilets with the help and supervision of engineers from the project,” Myra says.
“At first, we really thought that we wouldn’t be able to build our own toilet, we didn’t have any money to pay for carpenters to help us. In the end, I, my husband, and his brother managed to pay 1000 pesos (25 USD). The money came from our savings from our small sari-sari store. We had to first save the money first before we went on with the construction of the toilet. It took us only about a week to finish the toilet, and we have been using it since then. We are still not able to provide light in our toilet. We are still trying to save for that since we would have more for electricity.”
Save the Children was able to help the island communities construct a total of 611 toilets and 3 sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools and barangays. We are also continuously helping residents of the island communities to be prepared and resilient during disasters and to form healthy practices in hygiene and sanitation through trainings and interactive community discussions. At the end of the project, we aim to reach a total of 13,000 people residing in island communities.
“We have been using our toilet for months now, my children are very happy that they can now use the toilet even at night time. This is a safer and convenient for us, and also helps keep our barangay to be cleaner. We are very thankful that Save the Children helped our community. Aside from the toilet that they have given us, my children are also learning proper hygiene and sanitation practices in school, and are always reminding us to properly wash our hands first before we eat. I hope that Save the Children can continue to extend their help to more people, it would be great to see that all homes in island barangays will have their own comfort rooms.”