PORT TOWNSEND — Rotary clubs across the Olympic Peninsula are pooling resources to raise $15,000 in funding to help bring toilets to a small country in Africa.
The project, Dignity Toilets, builds above-ground composting toilets in the Klobatem Village of Togo, Africa, which is a West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea.
Since 2017, more than 100 toilets have been built in the project conceived of and spearheaded by Nor’Wester Rotary member Doc Reiss of Port Angeles.
The rotary clubs of district 8 (Port Angeles Noon, Sequim Sunrise, Sequim Noon, Port Townsend Sunrise, Port Townsend Noon, East Jefferson Rotary and Nor’Wester) have joined with the Zenith Rotary of Lome’, Togo, to apply for a Rotary Global Grant.
“This is an opportunity for us to have boots on the ground for a global project,” said Chuck Henry, president of the Port Townsend Sunrise Club.
Reiss explained at the Port Townsend Sunrise club’s Wednesday morning meeting that each club is responsible for raising $2,143, making a total of $15,000.
Rotary District 5020 will match that amount, bringing the total to $30,000.
Rotary International then will provide an additional $22,500, making the total amount raised to $52,500, Reiss said.
Since each toilet costs about $425, these funds would be enough to build more than 100 toilets between 2020-2021, effectively providing 600 to 800 people with toilets, Reiss said.
Each toilet is built to serve a single family of six to eight. They are made primarily of concrete. Togo has frequent floods, so the toilets are built watertight and a few feet off the ground, Reiss said.
Each concrete structure has two sides, each with a toilet, but only one is used at a time. The catch basin stores the excrement, while a separate bucket collects urine.
Once the basin has been filled — which usually takes about a year and a half for the average family of six to eight — it is sealed and the other toilet is used. Once that is full, the first side is cleared out of what has become a dried low-end fertilizer and reopened for use, Reiss said.
The basin “essentially becomes an oven” once it’s sealed, Reiss said. Between the high temperature climate of the area near the Equator and its construction, the basin makes the excrement into a fertilizer that can be used for non-food crops.
Reiss hires local men to build toilets and provides the training and supervision of the projects.
The toilets mean that families don’t have to relieve themselves in the fields, where flood waters would increase unsanitary conditions and there are threats of snakes, scorpions and other predators, Reiss said.
“For every one that is built, it lowers disease, cleans ground water and keeps a family out of the fields,” Reiss said. “One family that now has a toilet told me that his yard flooded but his toilet was dry.”
Once built, it’s on the families to maintain them, but Reiss said there’s little maintenance to do.
“We’ve never had a toilet fail,” Reiss said. “The family takes care of their toilet. They’re virtually maintenance-free.”
The only pieces that may require maintenance are the roofs, door and sealing plate, Reiss said.
Reiss also is looking for donations from the Clallam and Jefferson communities to go toward the project.
Those who want to donate can either go to www.dignitytoilets4togo.org and click “donate,” or they can mail a check with “Dignity Toilets” in the memo line to Nor’Wester Rotary Foundation, PO Box 176, Port Angeles, WA, 98362.
“The more money we can make, the more we can build,” Reiss said.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].