Friday, October 31, 2014

Meet the Biocenters: Lindi Usafi

Staff at Umande Trust recently checked in with the Lindi Usafi bio-centre and was delighted to find how significant an impact the bio-centre has continued to have on the Lindi community. This was no surprise considering how far the bio-centre has come and the partnership community members have with Umande. Tucked within a collection of housing structures in Lindi, the bio-centre was first initiated in 2006 and developed a bit slowly, but is today on the fast-track towards being completely finished and operational. Since its beginnings, one could begin to see the increase in sanitation surrounding the bio-centre, a decrease in illness within the community, and a new location for community members to hold events and activities. 

Unique to this bio-centre is its connection to a nearby set of latrines. These latrines have a history of their own, once being dilapidated to the point of extreme disgust, as can be seen in the below picture. Umande, having already constructed the Lindi Usafi bio-centre, consulted with the community and agreed to help renovate the latrines and connect these latrines’ waste to the bio-centre. As a result, the Lindi Usafi bio-centre is able to use the waste from these latrines to produce biogas. Without the partnership between the latrines and the Lindi Usafi bio-centre group, the renovation and sustainability of these community latrines would be much more difficult and possibly would not have happened.
The success of the bio-centre and latrines is sustained by a 37 member group. Of these 37 people, the dedication and accountability they put forth is why the bio-centre is a success today. These members have been there since the beginning and have spearheaded its ongoing development.  

At the centre, a variety of events are held in the community room upstairs. Many days, young children take pre-primary classes upstairs and the area around the bio-centre is extra festive as a result. Also, the bio-centre is used to host events such as church group meetings, elderly group meetings, and football match viewings. 

Looking to the future of the Lindi Usafi bio-centre, Umande and the Lindi community expects great progress. Moving forward, the group members and the community expect overall health to continue to increase. This will likely come via disease rate decrease, fewer sicknesses, general sanitation in the environment surrounding the bio-centre, and an increase in community cohesiveness. These are all positive changes Lindi Usafi has seen occur since the bio-centres inception, and these improvements are only going to increase. In addition, the Lindi Usafi Bio-Centre has great aspirations to start a bakery, do chicken farming, and renovate the surrounding area of the bio-centre. There will be financial and land flexibility in the coming years, and the bio-centre is way ahead of the game in its plans to take full advantage of this in order to expand its services.

All in all, the horizon is bright for the Lindi community. Bio-centres across Kibera have proven to make a lasting positive impact on the communities they are located in. This is proving to be true in Lindi, and will continue to be as engagement and support between Umande, the group, and community stakeholders remain.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Meet the Biocenters: Gatwikira Multi-vision Self-Help Group

Recently we visited the Multi-vision Self-Help Group’s biocenter in the Gatwikira area of Kibera and spoke with one of the community members running the biocenter. The Muvi group partnered with Umande in 2006, and the biocenter has been fully operational since 2008. They are able to serve 250-300 people daily, including men, women, children, and the disabled; they offer toilets, cold showers, hot showers, biogas for cooking, and a community center on the upper floor of the building. Gatwikira has been able to put in place the Beba cashless payment system, which has increased transparency and accountability for the group, and has increased security for the caretakers and the biocenter’s users, who do not need to carry cash in order to use the biocenter.

            Gatwikira is a heavily populated area in Kibera; it is mostly filled with homes, as well as one school. The addition of the biocenter has increased sanitation in the area and decreased related health issues. The affordability of the biocenter has translated to widespread use by members of the community. Muvi has become a place for the community to meet—the upper level of the building is used to view football games, to hold Church services, and to hold community meetings. They additionally provide hygiene promotion, sanitary kits for women, condom dispensers, and educational materials on sanitation and health.

            Even with the successes the biocenter has already had, there are still improvements the group leaders would like to implement. Muvi hopes to tile both floors of the biocenter completely, as well as plaster the walls fully. They also hope to expand the biogas kitchen to a separate area outside the biocenter in order to expand its use and usefulness for the community. Finally, there is a need to install a reedbed, which will protect the surrounding area from overflows of sewage from the biocenter, especially during the rainy seasons. We are certainly optimistic about Muvi’s future and the impact they will continue to have on their community.

Written by Rachel Powers

Friday, October 17, 2014

Improving Access: Case Study of the Jasho Letu Bio-Centre

Impact of the Kopo Kopo Cashless Payment System 

When asked about how the Jasho Letu bio-centre has impacted his life, Kibera resident Morris Odoyo said, “I feel better about this. There are less flying toilets.” Created in 2007, Jasho Letu offers both daily and monthly payment for use of its toilets and cold showers. One time use of the toilet and shower cost 5 and 10 shillings respectively, while monthly use costs 150 shillings. In addition to the bio-centre’s 15 monthly clients, one-time use patrons bring in about 7,000 shillings a week.

One factor attributing to its success is the introduction of a cashless payment system that allows for both mobile payment and electronic transfer of cash transactions. This open-loop platform—called Kopo Kopo—allows customers to pay for bio-centre services using Safaricom’s M-PESA service to top-up credit on their mobile phone. With M-PESA, customers can immediately pay for bio-centre amenities and are not charged any additional fees; rather, Jasho Letu is charged 1% lumpsum each time the Kopo Kopo transactions are settled to their bank account.

The Kopo Kopo system also allows caretakers to electronically submit, transfer, and record cash payments with the M-PESA mobile wallet platform. Both Kopo Kopo payment methods, mobile and cash, improve accountability and record-keeping for the bio-centre, as the caretaker is responsible for significantly less records. Bernice Mmboga, the caretaker of the Jasho-Letu bio-centre, said that the Kopo Kopo system “makes it easier.” “I had to get used to it,” she says, “but it’s progressively improved.” According to Bernice, it was “difficult” and time-consuming to keep handwritten records of every bio-centre transaction. Now she is accountable for significantly less records, as bio-centre traffic and payment is automatically and electronically recorded.

One Jasho Letu member, David Kihara, says he has seen an improvement in not only recordkeeping but also number of bio-centre patrons. Although he notes that most still use cash, Kihara says that the number of customers has increased thanks to the M-PESA option. Kihara attributes the improvement to M-PESA’s “wide reach.” In 2013 alone there were 17 million M-PESA users in Kenya, many of which live in informal settlements like Kibera. Because many community members already use M-PESA, paying for bio-centre services is simple.

Kihara further notes that he has also seen an improvement in the actual receiving of funds accumulated from Kopo Kopo. For about a month now Jasho Letu has been using their own Jasho Letu Kopo Kopo till number to accept payment. Previously there was a delay in the distribution of money, as the bio-centre was using Umande Trust’s till number. But with their own till number, Jasho Letu receives payments promptly.

Another major success of the Jasho Letu bio-centre is the sale of cooking fuel. Jasho Letu currently sells ethanol for 87 shillings per litre, offering a sustainable, inexpensive, and healthier alternative to charcoal. “It has been very nice,” remarks Kihara. He notes that because customers often must travel to reach the bio-centre, many prefer not to use its community cookers. There has been “a very good response” to the ethanol, according to Kihara, who comments that the fuel “cooks in a shorter time and lasts longer.”

Evidently both the Kopo Kopo cashless payment system and the sale of biogas have led Jasho Letu’s bio-centre to go above and beyond water & sanitation. Along with the cashless payment systems and biogas, Jasho Letu’s 2nd floor community center provides space for community collaboration or entertainment. Community based organizations have a space for meeting, and football fans have a safe opportunity to watch sports. Jasho Letu hosts football viewings for 20 shillings a game. According to Odoyo, it’s his “favorite” part of the bio-centre. “It’s safe, I do not have to walk far at night,” he states. And Odoyo is not the only person benefiting from the Jasho Letu bio-centre; there are many more, and the numbers are growing.

Written by: Sarah Snead

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Napenda choo sounds the death knell for ‘flying toilets’ in slums

Kibagare biocentre is an innovative solution to the pervasive sanitation problems in the slums. PHOTO | JOHN MBARIA  

Posted  Wednesday, October 15  2014 at  14:00
·         Aptly called bio-sanitation centres (or biocentres), the complexes are one-stop shops for a host of services and businesses: Money transfer, offices, residential rooms, halls for hire, libraries, computer labs, kitchens (where clients pay a fee to cook), and bio-digesters that convert human waste into biogas and chemical fertiliser.
·         The complexes are found in in Mukuru-Kaiyaba and in Kibagare off the Nairobi-Nakuru road, Kibera, Korogocho, Mathare and other areas.

Many dreams, it is said, are dreamed on the toilet. Now, for some residents of informal settlements in Nairobi, the toilet is making their dreams come true.
“Napenda choo” (I love the toilet), reads one of the posters in a toilet in Mukuru-Kaiyaba slum. But the toilets described in the poster are not the ordinary 3ft-by-6ft tin-and-wattle “long-drop” latrines. They are multi-storey complexes, where businesses find a home amid state-of-the-art technology. These are places you go for meetings, to transfer money, take a hot shower, type your thesis, watch World Cup, cook your food or read a Robert Ludlum thriller.
They are also innovative solutions to the pervasive sanitation problems in the slums of Nairobi and elsewhere in Kenya that have drawn the attention of and financial support from, among other agencies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Poo power: turning human waste into clean energy in Kenya's slums

Bio-centres turning human waste into electricity prove that feces is the ultimate source of renewable energy.

Biocentres in Kibera have collected 60,000kg of poo, turning it into biogas.
They call them “flying toilets” – the bags of human poo that are thrown out of the windows of the thousands of small shacks that make up Nairobi’s slums.
The largest of Nairobi’s informal settlements is Kibera, just three miles from the city centre. An estimated one million people live there, and toilet facilities are scarce. The bare earth streets are carved with gullies: equal parts open sewer and rubbish dump. The nearest toilet for most people is a hole they have dug in a bare patch of ground at the back of their shack.
But Josiah Omotto, a managing trustee of the Umande trust, has high ambitions: he wants Nairobi to become an open defecation-free city. It’s a big challenge to set for yourself. “If open defecation was banned in Nairobi today, every member of the informal settlements would have to queue for two days to use the existing toilet facilities,” he says.
Umande and the British charity Practical Action have devised a solution that turns the mountains of odorous human waste from a problem into an asset.
They are building bio-centres – toilet facilities where human slurry is collected and put in a digester which collects the methane emitted from poo as it breaks down. The methane is sold back to the slum dwellers as biogas, used for cooking within the centres or to power hot showers.
“Every individual creates 300g of human waste each day, and 60% of Nairobi’s four million inhabitants live in its informal settlements – that’s 2.4 million people,” says Omotto. “What we have in Nairobi is 720,000 kg of shit. We want to turn it into biogas so that we can tackle the energy crisis.”
Methane is a greenhouse gas. If released into the atmosphere it is many times worse for the environment than CO2. Steps are being taken worldwide to reduce emissions but since we humans are likely to carry on defecating for many years to come, human poo could be considered the ultimate source of renewable energy. It’s much better for the environment to burn the methane from poo than from fossil fuels, after all.
Umande and its partners have built 57 biocentres in Nairobi, which have so far managed to collect at least 60,000 kg of poo, according to Omotto.
Some biocentres also have other facilities incorporated within the same block, including spaces for recreation, social activities and small businesses.
The Stara biocentre in Kibera is run by women who also manage an orphan school. At the bottom of the centre they offer hot showers powered by biogas, and the first floor is let out as a legal advice centre. The orphanage earns 45,000 Kenyan shillings a month from the biocentre, which they use to fund their work with the children.
Aidah Ebrahim, project director for Umande, says that between 350 and 1,000 people visit each of the toilet blocks every day, paying three cents each to use the loo, and a few cents more for a hot shower, if those are available.
But the project was not without its challenges. Transporting heavy building materials across dirt streets riven with gullies and piled high with detritus is not easy, and theft of building materials is commonplace in Kibera. Umande held negotiations and the community helped to transport the building materials, and keep them secure while the facility was being built.
“Most of the projects are funded by grants from donors, but since last year we have partnered with financial institutions who are providing loans to pay for future sanitation projects,” says Ebrahim. “This came after we definitively proved that the projects are bankable, profitable and scalable.”
Umande is working with engineers from Denmark and the Netherlands on converting the bioslurry into fertiliser, and to see how we can recycle the water. They are also working with a private company from Thailand to bag large quantities of gas for resale to small businesses in the city. In the future, Umande would like to incorporate solar panels to buildings and biodigesters to existing toilets so that they do not have to build completely new facilities to create energy.
Practical Action is replicating the project in other countries. In Vattavan, Sri Lanka, they power their digester with animal waste, providing cooking gas and lighting in rural areas. One of the project’s fans is Sakunthaladev Kathiravetpillai who lives with her husband and four children. She used to spend each day collecting fire wood for cooking but now she uses biogas and has more time to grow food, or earn money for the family. She uses the dried out manure that is left after the poo has decomposed as fertiliser on her vegetable garden.
This week, Umande broke ground on the first of a series of toilet block biocentres in a slum in Kisumu, near Lake Victoria. City officials reached out to the group after seeing the success they’d had with the biocentres in Kibera. It seems the renewable energy potential of poo is an idea worth spreading.

Story written by Frederika Whitehead