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“Hetsomi” Means Dignity: Sanitation Innovation Giving Dignity to Ghana’s Poorest

Published 11/15/2017 by Global Communities

“Hetsomi” Means Dignity
Sanitation Innovation Giving Dignity to Ghana’s Poorest

Stella Adzonyo with her granddaughter. She says the Digni-Loo has changed her life.
Stella Adzonyo faces physical challenges on a daily basis. Unable to walk, she struggles living in a place where accommodations for people with disabilities do not exist. Stella lives in Hwakpo, a small community in the Ada West District, located about two hours from Ghana’s capital, Accra. As a rural community there are no sidewalks or paved roads in Hwakpo, which makes it extremely difficult for Stella to get around in her wheelchair.

As an elderly woman with limited mobility, Stella hardly ever leaves her home, but this does not dampen her spirits. Her days are filled with cooking, spending time with her grandchildren and other members of her large extended family, as well as listening to the local radio station. Really, the only time Stella was forced to venture from her house was to use the bathroom. Previously when Stella needed to go, she would have to wheel herself into the bush behind her house.

Open defecation is a common practice in Ghana, especially in rural areas. Only 15 percent of Ghanaians have access to improved sanitation. Despite the health and environmental risks, most people lack even the most basic sanitation infrastructure.

For Stella, relieving herself was a time consuming and precarious process. The uneven and rocky soil made wheeling her chair extremely challenging. Sometimes her chair would get stuck or she would be at risk of tipping over. Fiercely independent, she hated that she would have to call out from the bush to one of her family members for assistance when she fell. Stella’s challenges were compounded at night and when it rained. Snakes and scorpions were also a constant worry.

Being elderly and disabled, Stella was identified to be a recipient of a new innovative latrine called Digni-Loo. Invented by Global Communities under the USAID Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for Health program, the Digni-Loo is a plastic latrine slab that has a number of advantages over the traditional concrete slab.

Digni-Loo is easy to install and costs the fraction of a traditional concrete latrine slab.

The Digi-Loo is easy to clean and maintain. The hard plastic is non-porous so it doesn’t stain and is easy to rinse and wipe off. The bowl contains a small flap which opens when water is poured down to rinse away any waste. Since the flap remains closed when not in use, it helps reduce odors and flies.

The Digni-Loo is extremely durable and can last up to 20 years. Fabricated as one piece of sturdy plastic, the slab has been tested and approved by the Ghana Standards Authority to withstand up to 1 ton of weight. The Digni-Loo is also reusable. When the pit is full, it can be removed and relocated to a new pit.

The Digni-Loo is easy to install requiring no special tools or skills. Once the pit is dug, it can be installed in less than an hour and used immediately. Traditional concrete slabs can take several days to construct and require skilled labor to ensure the masonry and concrete work are done correctly.

One of the most attractive features of the Digni-Loo, especially for poor households like Stella’s, is the cost. It is currently being produced by Duraplast Ghana Ltd., a local plastic manufacturer. Local production helps keep the cost low and it is a fraction of the cost of a concrete slab.

As a elderly widow, Beatrice Opaye received a Digni-Loo from Global Communities as part of a pilot project which supports the poorest of the poor in targeted communities.

Beatrice Opaye is not sure how old she is, but her oldest son guesses she is around 80. She is another resident of Ada West who has received a Digni-Loo. Under USAID WASH for Health, Global Communities is conducting a pilot project which provides a Digni-Loo to the poorest of the poor in targeted communities. The criteria for recipients includes the elderly, people with disabilities, and widowed individuals who have no external support, among others that the community may identify. Once the community identifies those in need of support, the government’s Department of Social Welfare then verifies the selections.

Global Communities provides the Digni-Loo components and technical assistance as needed. The recipient provides the labor and materials required to dig the pit and build the structure around it. The surrounding structure can be made of locally available materials like wood, thatch or mud to keep the construction costs low. To make improved sanitation more accessible to Ghana’s most vulnerable residents, Global Communities is partnering with the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources to develop a “pro-poor” policy at the national level that will help provide subsidized sanitation materials to the poorest households.

Stella’s new latrine is conveniently located near her home, making her life so much easier. It is a source of pride for her and she is pleased to be able to offer its use to guests when they visit. She appreciates the safety, comfort and privacy the latrine affords her. But most notably, she loves the independence and dignity the Digni-Loo has given her. When asked what she would have named the new invention that has changed her life, she replied “hetsomi,” which means dignity in Dangme, the local language.

“I am happy because I no longer have to go to the bush. Now, I am free.”