Entrevista: Conversations on Water and Sanitation, an interview to Solister Phiri

*Entrevista y Fotografías_ Sara Márquez Martín
Arquitecta y Miembro de Garam Masala

soroti (20)logo-tablonWhen you look at SOLISTER PHIRI, 52, father of 6 kids and 2 grandchildren, you would never imagine that he is one of the most prominent specialists in Water and Sanitation. This Malawian carpenter has a dream: to stop Open Air Defecation OD. This dream is slowing becoming true in Malawi, partly because of his devoted work.

I met Solister visiting the COWATER project of latrine construction at the primary school of Chihuhaine in the Mozambican district of Panda. He had travelled from Malawi by bus and had been working with the “Conselho da Escola” (School Council), teachers and students in a two weeks workshop.

The result was outstanding. 6 latrines and 2 urinary built by and for the community. The more than 500 aged 6 to 12 kids would have access to sanitation. Before, as in many rural schools in Mozambique, the surroundings where Open Air Defecation Areas. Now, building techniques were appropriated, thus maintenance guaranteed. Moreover, educational programs conducted by Teresa Pedro, from the Direcção Provincial de Obras Publicas de Inhambane (DPOPHI) made the kids happy to use them in a proper way.

Six months after the visit the school installation remain in use, cleaned and maintained. COWATER coordinator in Inhambane, Eduardo Verdugo, has been working in Water and Sanitation field for soroti (21)18 years. As a participant and organiser of the workshop he is enthusiast with the results. COWATER is conducting a six-year community-based program in Mozambique to provide sustainable community-managed water supply and sanitation services and health/hygiene education to up to 200,000 rural inhabitants in Inhambane Province.

It is very important for these programs to understand what is really available and not trying to implement solutions that will not be appropriated by communities. A good example was that this school did not have the means to buy soap. Education Program was adapted with the community, kid with use sinza a mixture of stone powder and ashes that can disinfect dirty hands. Sinza and water are always available near the latrines; a child is always responsible for that task.

The hours I spent with Teresa, Eduardo and Solister were profoundly enriching. Humbleness, knowledge and love for their work are some of the ingredients for eradicating open air defecation. The participation of local and provincial authorities (SDPI Panda) and the Schools is the key for sustainability.

When introducing himself Solister smiles insisting that at home he is a simple man, even if soroti (22)he is here treated as a specialist. What follows is the conversation that took place coming back from Panda.

What was your experience in Mozambique?

In rural areas people’s houses and latrines are not so good. Some ruin. Maybe it is poverty, no, actually not. You can decide what to do even when you are poor. I am so poor!

What makes you more proud of your Job?

You save the communities, their lives, the elder, the vulnerable and the children. How? Building latrines of different types. I am a carpenter, roofing also makes me proud.

I help them with the construction of slabs, latrines and soil improving techniques. The soil becomes more fertile by reconditioning it with excreta.

soroti (1)What is the relation between sanitation and health?

If people have latrines close and don’t defecate at open sky flies won’t touch excreta and contaminate water. Contaminate water and food.

Other hygienic consideration such as cleaning hands after defecation can make a change.

Technically what do you think is the best kind of latrine?

There are three main types of latrines each place requires one. What is important is the builders choose the one that suits their needs best.

soroti (16)Traditional Latrines concern a hole on the earth, when full they can only be abandoned.

Ecological latrines produce fertiliser. Ex. Arboloo, Fossa alterna and skyloo.

Improved traditional latrines concern a better structure, a base, are more comfortable and clean. They produce fertiliser and imply a change of mentality because it benefits, not only for health issues but because of profits. You get manure! You value your latrine!

Skyloo, it is only for defecating, so urine has to be managed separately. It is expensive. Excreta are kept one metre above the ground. After each use one hand of ash and three of soil must be placed.

soroti (17)Arboloo o Banana latrine: (less expensive) has a 3-4 months life. Can make people tired of shifting the temporal superstructure slab.

Fossa Alterna: Has a 9-10 months life. Urine and faeces are combined. After X time you can excavate and excreta is now fertiliser.

How can the profits of ecological latrine be shown?

When you arrive to a community all the discussions come together. Do you have a latrine? When do you defecate? How much can you earn with a latrine? If you have money (3500 soroti (7)kwacha) you can have a slab. You can also exchange a slab for a chicken or for corn. Latrine will bring benefits to the users.

How do you choose the kind of latrine?

First, there are dynamics and we show all the types.  Then they choose and we see if it is possible. “I never choose for them” because if I choose it will not answer their needs.

How do you cope with the taboos that surround sanitation?

He laughs, and asks: taboos? We use songs, drama, dynamics, we want to motivate people. soroti (28)Words you become ashamed of using start being common. Otherwise, we use technical word such as excreta, faeces or urine.

One action we take is accompanying people to see their own faeces in the land. By confronting with shame some people change. We approach with methods such as Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) where people are mobilised to completely eliminate OD by behaviour change.

Other method we use is PHAST, Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation. It makes communities be more open for discussing topics. PHAST is also a method that involves changing behaviour in order to eradicate OD (PHAST Worldbank, WHO)

soroti (15)How do you approach different members of the community?

We work with women and men together. Women are the first to appropriate. At first all are ashamed but they have the knowledge and have to share it. Usually women take bigger rolls and come more to the meetings.

Kids are the poorest and more vulnerable. They have to be involved in the building too. If a child soroti (18)starts using latrines they will use it for the rest of their lives. Latrines can be dangerous for kids so we have to make sure they know how to use it

Elder people are the big challenge! They have always live practising OD.  It is always difficult to change their minds! You make a big drama with the message. I remember a 65 year old Man who was afraid of flies, built a latrine through drama message.  

Generally, our task is about find fears, asking: Why don’t you have a latrine? Because: “it’s expensive and I’m also poor” , other reason is laziness, others are just innocent or ignorant, they don’t know what it is.  If money is the problem Latrine Banana or fertilizers are good answers.soroti (19)

How long have you been working in sanitation?

I started working with C.C.A.P Synod of Livingstonia on a partnership with the NGO Water-Aid. Patricia, his wife, was involved he was asked “Can you help?”  Water-Aid mission is to transform lives by improving access to safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities. Since then the goal of my life is stopping OD Open Air Defecation. Why? Because of the transmission of diarrhoea/ cholera and other diseases that come from contaminating drinking water. Water-Ais prepared this video.

soroti (6)

The way I look simple helps. People get the message easily. How do we gain respect? We participate with stakeholders, governments, with the Ministries of Education, Health, Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources and with traditional leaders.

When was the first time you used a latrine?

He was surprised by the question. His first answer was “always” then he realised the he could remember when his father come back from Zimbabwe and built the first latrine of the village. My neighbours saw it but didn’t talk. Te family changed the “bush” for the “latrine”, the area was clearer, healthier.

The first time he built one he was 24 years old. This way I did not need to share bathroom nor latrine. I learned how to do them at school with logs.

I came and live in a rural area. Living in the city is more expensive. At my village we can use the land, in the city you have to pay for everything. Majamala Village, Ephangweni HQs Embangweni, mzimba, Malawi. Now, everybody has a latrine in the village.

How do you combine working with NGOs, participating in congresses and being an entrepreneur?

Solister shows us some documents, impeccably organised in a folder that always travels with him.soroti (12) One is the certification register of “Phiri Sanitation Service”. The second one, a “chithuli kwalira Environment Friends” certification for building ecological latrines between 2006-2010. At Jenda Rural Growth Centre Mzimba district he was involved in the growth of this rural centre, the market and its latrines. I am carpenter at home and a water aid artisan volunteer.

I am a simple man, my academic education are courses I took at the Malawian MZUZU University: “Gender and Waste Management” “Business Opportunities in Water and Sanitation” “Sustainable School Sanitation”. I love teaching what I know. This workshop in Mozambique was an opportunity to doing so. I have travelled to Europe to participate in Congress. There I could share with a lot of specialists.

soroti (11)Solister really is a simple man, the most humble specialist I have ever met. Knowledge comes slowly as he speaks, as he questions and answers himself sharing experience and techniques. Always ready for the next place to implement projects aimed at eradicating open defecation.

Solister Phiri 

Contact: solisterphiri@gmx.com +265 888 526 336/+265 881 933 901.

2002 Starts working with Ecological Sanitation Partnership Program (mirar en la entrevista)

2009 England, Invited by BPD, Building Partnership in Development in Water and Sanitation. Congress on Ecological Sanitation Latrines.

2010 Portugal, UN Human rights in water and Sanitation. Presentation

2011 Mozambique, Cowater projects (slab construction).

2014 Consultant for the construction of latrines at COWATER projects in Mozambique












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