A New Class of Toilets

By Sophia Greenbaum, Graphic Designer, PSI
Sandy Garçon, Manager, External Relations & Communications, PSI

“Excuse me. May I use your toilet?” Meseret Workneh takes great joy in hearing this ordinary request.

Only five months ago, this twenty-seven-year-old mother of one could barely make ends meet from selling coffee on the side of the road. Now she manages her own public pay-for-use toilet in Africa’s largest open air market, Merkato, in Ethiopia’s capital.

Amid the hustling and bustling of the Addis Ababa marketplace, the beaming green and white walls are a welcome sight. Two small, well maintained stalls — one marked for women and the other for men — along with a unisex shower provide her customers an escape from the often dirty public latrines.

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Photo: © Population Services International / Photo by: Sophia Greenbaum

Even in this fast-growing metropolis, most households lack a basic toilet, a problem that is particularly acute in the slums of Addis Ababa where 80 percent of the city’s residents live. Too often, public toilets are constructed and then left to fall into disrepair. Without other options, residents are forced to openly defecate in alleyways, waterways or “flying toilets”— plastic bags that are then thrown into the open. The majority of public toilet blocks available throughout the city are shared by hundreds of people each day and are often smelly, poorly maintained and discharge to open drains, contributing to the spread of harmful bacteria. With the recent severe outbreak of acute watery diarrhea, the need for better sanitation is a high priority.

Faced with these challenges, and the determination to provide the urban poor with an aspirational, yet affordable solution that customers would actually enjoy using, PSI-Ethiopia launched a sanitation business that provides not only a clean, affordable toilet to poor households, but also presents an economic opportunity for local entrepreneurs.

The result is Liyu Class (liyu essentially means “special” or “premier” in Amharic), a pay-for-use toilet that offers its users with an experience that is “beyond clean.” The brand relies on local sanitation entrepreneurs like Meseret, who is trained to provide a better experience for her customers. For an affordable price, people throughout the community can use her Liyu facility, one of four such locations throughout Addis Ketema sub-city — they just have to look for the green and white painted walls.

“Since I’ve started operating these toilets, I now have a sense of purpose of getting up in the morning,” Meseret says. “It brings me closer to the people in the community every day.”

Liyu Class is not only improving sanitation, but creating jobs. Since opening, Meseret has generated enough income to hire both an assistant and guard. And with the tank below requiring emptying every month, her site generates new business for local companies that provide sludge disposal services.

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Photo: © Population Services International / Photo by: Sophia Greenbaum

Her customers value their experience when they use Meseret’s toilets. And it shows. “Because PSI-Ethiopia has created this opportunity for people like myself, not only by providing jobs. I see how it has helped the community.”

Through trainings conducted by PSI-Ethiopia, Meseret now knows how to keep up with hygiene practices, use the appropriate cleaning materials, and most of all, provide excellent customer service.  She takes great pride in keeping her facilities clean and smelling fresh, which does not deter from the rich aroma of coffee she brews nearby to make extra money.

And the best part for Meseret: PSI-Ethiopia follows up with her once a week to assist with any needs. “This is a great initiative and I hope to see more like it throughout Addis to improve sanitation in our communities.”

The sound of a flushing toilet is something she welcomes. With every flush comes a new hope of a cleaner community — and relief.

Banner Photo: © Population Services International / Photo by: Sophia Greenbaum