Washrooms? As a Christmas gift? Yes, it might seem unusual but for many children around the world, access to a clean, sanitary washroom is a life-changing gift. In fact, when washrooms are built in Compassion centres, they are usually celebrated with gusto by the community! The running water in the taps, the loud flush of the toilets and the clean, private spaces cause kids from all ages to cheer and laugh as they explore their new washrooms. But washrooms bring more than just shiny taps, sudsy soap bubbles and pristine porcelain, they bring freedom from diseases, bestow dignity and provide protection for the children who receive them.
One of the best parts of the gift of washrooms in our Gifts of Compassion gift guide, is that these needs are identified by our local church partners. Pastors and Compassion staff who know the greatest needs of their communities identify and handpick this gift as one that will best serve the children. Not only do pastors and Compassion staff identify the need, they are also intimately involved in how best to meet the need for their community. They are resourceful so that your gift of washrooms can have its maximum impact for the children in their community. And, it gets better! Not only are the pastors and Compassion staff identifying the needs and resourcefully bringing them to life, they are also teaching their communities about proper stewardship of these gifts so that they are well taken care of and valued.
A pastor who knows their community
In the remote village of Puerto El Flor in Usulután, El Salvador, Pastor Ramiro’s vision was to provide only the best for the children, his congregation and his community. This was challenging because of the remoteness of this village on the west coast and the lack of resources, but Pastor Ramiro knew just what would make the biggest impact on this community: toilets.
The community of Puerto El Flor had only ever known composting toilets, which are built one metre above the ground and have a septic tank underground. When Pastor Ramiro had the soil tested it became evident that, because of their location and water system, these toilets were polluting the clean water of the wells that people were currently using. Something needed to change.
The families in Puerto El Flor, who primarily find their income in collecting shellfish and do not have many resources, found it difficult to envision development in the community. But through Pastor Ramiro’s dedication and advocacy on behalf of the children, families and community, the Compassion centre found out that they were the recipients of a gift of washrooms! It took seven months to construct the new washroom facilities, but finally, they were finished. The children, parents and community all gathered to celebrate and there were many smiles while touring the facilities to learn how the new flushing toilets worked and how to care for the facilities.
“Before having these restrooms, we used to feel uncomfortable when using the composting toilets. But when the new flushing toilets came, it was different, cleaner, nice and even fun,” said 13-year-old Rosa, smiling.
A resourceful solution
In the Kawangware slums in Nairobi, Kenya, 11-year-old Faith closes the door behind her and steps onto the tiled floor of a newly constructed toilet block at her local Compassion centre. She proceeds to wash her hands with soap and running water from a tap. She then dries her hands using paper towel, which she then disposes of in a wastepaper basket. She walks out into the sunshine and joins her friends at the playground, leaving behind the newly constructed toilet block made from a shipping container.
The new structure stands out. It captures attention, which speaks of its rarity and significance.
A few years ago, Pastor Burundi applied for funding toward the construction of these toilet facilities. Their toilet block was not enough to cater to the 265 children and adequately provide for all the weekly programs. Being in a highly populated area with poor sanitation also meant children had a high exposure to diseases. The two existing handwashing stations, part of the old toilet block, were not enough. “We used to make long queues since we only had two doors for girls, now we have six doors and it’s more comfortable to go to the toilet,” says Rihanna, a child at the church.
The application was successful and construction started quickly. The generosity of Compassion donors provided the main support and members of the church contributed the rest. “The support from Compassion inspired parents to contribute towards the implementation process,” says Sam, a Compassion staff member. The church used a shipping container as a way of cutting building costs and time spent in construction.
“The toilet block was the most urgent facility needed and its coming was timely,” says Reverend Burudi. Those who benefit the most are the children who regularly attend programs at the church. “Parents are grateful and assured that their children are safe and in a good environment,” says Sam. “The toilet project has been a lifesaver from issues like diarrhea and infections which are related to poor sanitation.”
Giggles and laughter fill the air as Faith and her friends continue to play. The shipping container, which is now their toilet facility, stands nearby as a beacon of hope for the children. They play around it, running on the steps. “I have a sense of privacy and safety when using the new toilets,” says Faith. “They are also clean and the building looks good.”
A lesson in stewardship and sanitation
In the El Muñeco community in Honduras approximately 80 per cent of people live in extreme poverty. Water is a scarcity and many families don’t have a toilet.
Pastor Jacinto shared, “I could not bear the idea of watching our beneficiaries get sick because of unhealthy hygiene practices or water scarcity. We taught the children about water sanitation, and we did it with basic information. But we did not have a water reserve or toilets at the centre, so children continued to get sick. What we had was a makeshift latrine that served almost 200 people.”
So, Pastor Jacinto and Consuelo, the Compassion centre director, applied to have new washrooms built at the Compassion centre. The application was approved and new washrooms were built through the generosity of Compassion donors. Pastor Jacinto shared, “When the funds were granted by Compassion, I felt beyond blessed. Despite the obstacles we found in the midst of the construction, as a team we never got discouraged. When I see the smiles on the children’s faces after they have used the bathrooms, I know everything we did paid off. I have also witnessed how children’s health have improved and diseases decreased.”
Emelin, a child at the Compassion centre, recalled, “We had to make a long line and wait patiently before using the only latrine at the centre. When the bathrooms for girls were inaugurated, I felt overjoyed to flush a toilet. After that I washed my hands with liquid soap like my tutor taught me. Since my family and I do not have a toilet at home, it feels so good to flush the toilets at the centre.”
The joy and excitement was evident when the new washrooms were completed. Children and their families were thrilled that they now had access to clean, safe and private washrooms. The children were taught how to use the new toilets and taps so that they kept them clean and well cared for. They also learned proper hygiene habits and water stewardship.
Consuelo, the Compassion centre director, expressed, “Most of our beneficiaries never flushed a toilet before. When we share this fact with people outside the community, they find it odd, but it is a reality. After we inaugurated the bathrooms, children used to ask for bathroom breaks even when they did not need to go just to experience the flushing. Since learning about water stewardship, they only go when it’s necessary.”
The gift of washrooms is handpicked by Compassion’s local church partners as the greatest need in their community. When you give the gift of washrooms, you are unwrapping the gifts of freedom, dignity and protection for children.
Photography and field reporting by Nora Diaz, Kevin Ouma and Juana Ordonez Martinez.