Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Helps Change Lives through Improved Sanitation

Ian Moise with a villager at a WSP sanitation visit in Indonesia. Photo: Courtesy Ian Moise

“There are 2.6 billion people without access to improved sanitation. And, according to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), that’s supposed to be halved by the year 2015,” Ian Moise [mo-EEZ] told Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL).

Moise is a returned Peace Corps volunteer, who currently consults on a global sanitation project for the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP). “Our project is one of the many projects working on expanding access to ‘improved sanitation’ for a target of roughly 1.3 billion people,” he said.

In our interview with Moise, he explains how WSP is making in-roads in the developing world and gives advice to people who are interested in joining the field of international development.

This is part one of a two-part series. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll find out about ReUse Connection, an innovative service that Moise began on Facebook, and learn how it fits into his views about happiness. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


BPGL: What does WSP’s sanitation program look like from a practical standpoint?

MOISE: Our program combines two tools that were developed separately to work towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) sanitation goal.

The first tool is called Community-Led Total Sanitation, or CLTS. From my perspective, CLTS has changed the dynamic of development assistance for sanitation. Development practitioners used to provide money — and even actual latrines — with the expectation that people would use the latrines because they were good for them. That approach basically failed. As it turns out, people don’t use latrines just because you build them.

The CLTS approach actually facilitates a process where people end up realizing that excrement cycles through their community and that they can make changes themselves. During this process, you guide the community to map where people defecate, where houses are, where chickens and goats roam, and where children play.

In addition, you take them on a walk through the village to see each of these areas. At some point in the process, people suddenly realize that excrement cycles through the community: The chickens and goats walk through the areas where people defecate, and then they walk back to where people are; kids walk all over the place and put their hands everywhere; etc. The flies can also transport germs by landing on the excrement in the open. And the flies come and land on food.

In the end, the community sees that when people defecate in the open, it is eating its own excrement. When people in communities see that, they get charged up. It mobilizes them in a way I have not seen in many years of development efforts.

The second tool, Sanitation Marketing, recognizes that just because people feel mobilized to do something, that doesn’t mean they’re going to carry forward with it.

BPGL: How do you market sanitation to people? Are you talking about holding classes, or putting up billboards, fliers, social networking…?

This Indonesian man is the new owner of an improved sanitation facility. Photo: Courtesy Ian Moise

MOISE: Sanitation marketing takes a lot of the principles of social marketing and applies them to sanitation. It’s quite new. CLTS is more established.

Theoretically, there is a sanitation ladder. At the bottom is open defecation, where people squat in the open. You can move up the ladder to a hole in the ground, then from a hole in the ground to maybe a slab over the hole in the ground, and then a superstructure, and incremental improvements.

It doesn’t quite work like that in reality, but the concept is that people, no matter their socio-economic status, can enter the sanitation game at some level. The idea of sanitation marketing is to provide a market that reaches all segments of the population with different products at different costs.

The basic strategy is to do market research on likes and preferences for sanitation goods and services. Then you develop a mass communication campaign based on people’s likes. For example, if people like sitting down instead of squatting, then maybe you would market a sit-down latrine instead of a squatting one.

Sanitation Marketing also looks at the supply chain and tries to facilitate the provisioning of materials to masons and vendors so they can fulfill the demand created by a communication/marketing campaign.

BPGL:Who developed these approaches for sanitation? Are these recent approaches?

MOISE: Kamal Kar and Robert Chambers are the main figures behind the CLTS approach.

International development has been going on since the 1950s or so. A lot of it was — and still is — top-down. That’s the nature of how money flows out of one person’s hand into another (i.e., from one country’s coffers to another’s).

People who give money often want control over it. It’s somewhat natural. It is hard to let go of that control and let people spend money in the way that they think is appropriate, where you may not share the same value or decision-making principles. But that is what participatory development is about – empowering people.

Robert Chambers is actually best known in international development circles for developing participatory rural appraisals, where you do mapping exercises with people and facilitate their own development. Participatory approaches such as these are utilized in the CLTS approach, which was pioneered by Kamal Kar.

BPGL: How do CLTS and Sanitation Marketing fit together?

MOISE: WSP’s program is one of the lead efforts in bringing these two approaches together. The program works with host country governments in India, Indonesia, and Tanzania to develop and implement marketing campaigns for sanitation. At the same time, it trains CLTS facilitators to catalyze, or trigger, community demand for sanitation and masons to build sanitation products.

CLTS is a great manifestation of what happens when you put development in people’s hands and facilitate that process. That’s why it’s game changing in many ways. And yet, it’s not the panacea. It’s not the silver bullet. It doesn’t make everyone suddenly have a toilet and use it and clean it and have their children use it. There’s still a long way to go.

At WSP, we feel Sanitation Marketing offers a great complement to CLTS. And it’s gaining a lot of currency not just in WSP, but with other partners as well.

An overly simplistic way to describe the combination of the two goes something like this: Mobilize people to want to change with CLTS, i.e. create demand for sanitation. Simultaneously use Sanitation Marketing to market the various sanitation options to them and build up the supply of these options.

On our website, www.wsp.org, you can learn more about both CLTS and Sanitation Marketing.

BPGL: Who provides the money for CLTS? And does the money go directly to the villages?

Villagers in Indonesia gather during a break at a Sanitation Marketing training. Photo: Courtesy Ian Moise

MOISE: One of the major tenets of “pure” CLTS — that changes significantly from previous approaches — is that it is a no-subsidy approach. The idea is that people have money, and it’s a matter of priorities on where they choose to spend their money.

And that’s true. I’ve lived in villages. When there’s a funeral, there’s plenty of money flowing out of the village to make a nice headstone and burial for the deceased. So, it’s not a question of whether there’s money. It’s a question of whether there’s will.

Think about it. People all over the world buy cell phones and fashionable items. They make choices to save up and purchase these items. The challenge is creating the conditions where they prioritize sanitation as a place to spend their money.

All the past 30 or 40 years of handing out subsidies or handing out latrine slabs has failed. The inverse of that is not subsidizing anything and putting the burden of change on the people themselves. You put the responsibility and ownership in people’s hands.

Of course, there are cases where incentives have been found to work, but the major idea is to create ownership. So, the people build what they can afford — and then they own it and care for it.

BPGL: Who pays for the work you do?

MOISE: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) have led funding of the WSP work, along with Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, and the World Bank, though many donors and practitioners are interested in these techniques.

BPGL: Go over the bigger picture with me for just a minute.

MOISE: The big picture:  We operate in three countries: India, Indonesia, and Tanzania. We have teams in each of those three countries.

The program works through governments, so it’s really an effort in sustainable development.

The conclusion for reaching large populations is that you have to use host-country human resources. We leverage host-country governments and nongovernmental organizations. Basically, WSP, in partnerships, has developed the tools and techniques, especially for Sanitation Marketing, and we’ve refined CLTS.

Our country teams then work with the government. That means using the various ministries or departments in the government, down to the district level, whether it’s through the health-care system or through the Ministry of the Environment, etc.

We do a lot of training using a cascading model, where we train a national training group, or a national NGO. Then they go to the district that’s been selected by the government, and they train people at the district level. The people trained at the district level are then responsible to go to the community level and facilitate various processes that ultimately lead to these communities improving their sanitation status.

BPGL: How far along is the project?

Moise visits with a woman in Indonesia about the improved sanitation facility her family recently purchased. Photo: Courtesy Ian Moise

MOISE: Our initial project goal was to reach 4.5 million people with improved sanitation, and we are on track to surpass that goal. The project is supposed to end this year.

BPGL: That is phenomenal. Are that many people actually using toilets rather than open defecation? Or did you just expose them to it?

MOISE: Monitoring is a big challenge, especially when you try to monitor 4.5 million people. We usually use the government’s monitoring system, while also trying to get independent verification.

One interesting thing about this project is its impact evaluation. It is the largest impact evaluation of its kind in the sector, to my knowledge. So, to answer your question, we can wait for the impact evaluation, which will be out in a year or year and a half. We are all very optimistic about the outcomes.

BPGL: We see a lot of young people coming out of college who want to travel internationally and do something good for the world, similar to what you’re doing, but they don’t know where to start. How can someone get started in this kind of development work?

MOISE: I’ve spoken with a lot of people coming out of college, too, and a lot of people are interested in international development, public health, whatever. The best thing I can recommend is to just go overseas.

Peace Corps, which is how I got started, is a great way, because they take care of things for you. You get training, and you get money, and an assignment. It’s not an easy thing to do, and there are lots of personal growth opportunities and challenges, but it’s good, because it is a pre-packaged affair.

There are always jobs overseas too, and if that’s what you want to do, sign up with an NGO that’s doing what you want to do, and start networking with them.

There are a number of different development websites that post jobs. Some of them are in water and sanitation, and some are not. There are a lot of resources on the web, as you can imagine. DevNetJobs.org has general development jobs. Another one is ReliefWeb.int. It’s more focused on relief and disaster response.

There’s a book called Alternatives to the Peace Corps. It lists hundreds of ways to go overseas and volunteer your time (e.g., Doctors without Borders, UN Volunteers, etc.), anywhere from a week to a month or a year. There are all kinds of different opportunities. I would suggest picking that up.

BPGL: Any last words on your international experiences?

MOISE: Working and traveling internationally is an amazing experience, and I encourage everyone who is considering it to do it. It is never too late. You cannot replace the value of learning how to see things through other people’s eyes.

End of Part 1

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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“This Product Is Made from GARBAGE”

The Kitchen Sink is made from discarded toothpaste tubes. It has a black lining and zipper pockets. Photo: Courtesy XSProject

The Kitchen Sink bag is made from discarded toothpaste tubes. It has a black lining and zipper pockets. Photo: Courtesy XSProject

At first glance, the title of this post might seem like a slam against an inferior product. That’s not the case at all. In fact, the title comes directly from a product insert I received with two sample items from XS Project.

When a representative for XSProject first contacted me, I was intrigued with the description of how their products are made — and why. The email I received said, “Don’t be surprised if you soon spy some hipster with an accessory you can’t take your eyes off of (something that makes you think, ‘Oh, what a piece of garbage’).”

Who could resist finding out more?

Re-Purposing Plastic Waste

So, I checked the XSProject website and found a variety of useful items. Some were so pretty, I’d proudly carry them even to the office; others were more funky, for casual fun. But that’s true for any product line. (Don’t get me started on high fashion; I’d a whole lot rather carry bags made from garbage than much of what’s described as “haute couture.”)

Each "Shopaholic" bag is a unique design, made from recycled billboard material. Photo: Courtesy XSProject

Each "Shopaholic" bag is a unique design, made from recycled billboard material. Photo: Courtesy XSProject

Here’s an abbreviated version of the story behind XSProject: Ann Wizer, an eco-friendly designer and visual artist living in the Philippines in the 1990s, had been using trash to design costumes. She also created accessories for those costumes using non-recyclable, post-consumer waste. In 2002, Wizer established XSProject, hiring trash pickers in Jakarta, Indonesia to collect, clean, and sew a variety of useful accessories.

But Wizer doesn’t source her re-purposed materials from city dumps. Instead, the trash collectors she employs go house to house, picking up empty plastic containers, such as detergent packaging and toothpaste tubes. Her workers also use billboard plastic and the upholstery from discarded furniture. They cut the plastic into strips, then sew the pieces together by machine, bringing to life Wizer’s creative designs.

Through XSProject, Wizer not only saves an amazing amount of plastic from premature burial in a landfill, she also provides a living wage for skilled workers and unskilled trash collectors alike.

Testing My Samples

Wizer’s website drew me in, and I responded with a request for samples. The company sent me two bags to review (at no cost, just so you know). For a few weeks now, I’ve been living with and using both a “Cut Bag Medium” and a “Face Lift” cosmetic bag.

The Cut Bag (in blue) and the Face Lift (yellow) are sturdy, functional, and charming. Photo: Joe Hennager

The Cut Bag (in blue) and the Face Lift (yellow) are sturdy, functional, and charming. Photo: Joe Hennager

Although I thought the bags were charming and useful, my initial reaction upon opening the shipping box was not entirely positive; the scent of detergents was strong.  I never buy scented anything, as I have asthma that is sometimes triggered by chemical odors. Besides, I simply prefer unscented products.

So I decided to let the products air out for a while before using them. After three weeks or so, I could still smell the detergent, but not quite as strongly. I finally washed the medium bag in the sink, which has helped a lot.

What most impressed me was the construction. The plastic that I initially thought might be as flimsy as a potato chip bag turned out to be much thicker. Pieces of each bag are cut into strips and rectangles, then doubled and carefully machine-sewn, making the resulting “fabric” strong and sturdy. Handles are reinforced. Seams of each bag are covered with trim. Some bags have sturdy zippers. Others have Velcro closures. These bags will last and last and last.

On a recent car trip, I carried all my larger cosmetics containers (hair supplies, contact lens supplies, blow dryer, etc.) in the Cut Bag (medium). The reinforced handles are secure enough to handle a lot of weight. And the bag held its shape despite a fairly heavy load. All my smaller items, foundation, mascara, toothbrush case, and comb, went into the Face Lift cosmetics bag — with room to spare. And, the Face Lift bag is lined with fabric — a nice touch.

There are plenty of other uses, too. A shopper could easily use the Cut Bag at the grocery store (how appropriate!), carry soda cans or wine bottles for recycling, or bring along handwork such as knitting.

The Face Lift bag works well for holding small items, like cosmetics. Photo: Joe Hennager

The Face Lift bag works well for holding small items, like cosmetics. Photo: Joe Hennager

The Face Lift bag would make a convenient art supply bag. It could also serve as a mini sewing kit. Or, drop in those TV remotes you keep misplacing; you’ll never have trouble spotting this brightly colored container.

I initially thought the Face Lift bag would be good for small baby toys; but since there’s no way of knowing for sure what chemicals were stored in the plastic containers used to make these bags, that may not be wise. My personal preference (and you’ll have your own take on this) is to use the XSProject containers for things that won’t end up in anyone’s mouth. If I do carry food items or children’s toys, I’ll make sure they don’t come into contact with the plastic.

Serving the Poor

Wizer’s story doesn’t stop at the manufacture and sales of XSProject products. She also has set up a foundation that serves the poor of Jakarta. The XSProject Foundation provides money for books and uniforms for the children living in the trashpickers’ community. It also has helped to provide “a water pump and a toilet facility through sales and fundraising.”

Make a statement for the environment whenever you hand out a business card. Photo: Courtesy XSProject

Make a statement for the environment whenever you hand out a business card. Photo: Courtesy XSProject

The bags are definitely “eye-catching,” as the email I received suggested. The bright colors and obvious recycled materials will catch attention. So, let them! Spread the word about helping reduce solid waste while also providing meaningful employment for some of the world’s most impoverished people.

Whether you’re shopping for gifts or for yourself, consider XSProject items. Some are small enough for stocking stuffers, while others are large enough to carry dishes for a holiday potluck. Giving an XSProject accessory is a great way to please your loved ones while helping people you’ll never meet have a better, healthier life. And if your family is donating to charity rather than buying presents this year, consider directing your donation to XSProject Foundation. Either way, you’ll be helping to make a big difference for a very small investment.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)