Sanivation: Fill your stocking with shit, for a cause

Dec. 19, 2016, 9:23 a.m.

Who knew that poop could be so powerful?

Sanivation is a social enterprise in Naivasha, Kenya that aims to provide sanitation services to not only improve the environmental health of the urban poor, but also serve as a source of sustainable fuel production. The service involves free toilet installation in people’s homes coupled with an affordable monthly service fee. Waste is collected and brought back to the Sanivation processing facility, where it is transformed into charcoal briquettes that can be sold to local businesses and households at a lower cost than traditional charcoal.

Emily Woods and Andrew Foote, who met as undergraduates at Georgia Tech Research Institute, first got interested in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) engineering solutions through their experiences working in Cameroon at Engineers Without Borders. They started by developing a solar sanitation system through Start Up Chile in 2011. Working in Naivasha as a sanitation engineer, Woods heard community members’ dissatisfaction with pit latrines and saw an opportunity to implement a new sanitation system.

In 2014, Foote joined her in Naivasha, where they were inspired to develop the Sanivation waste-to-fuel model after learning that community members wanted to cook on solar waste processing units. With massive deforestation occurring throughout the country, 80 percent of urban families in Kenya rely on charcoal; people in Naivasha spend over 30 percent of their income on charcoal to cook. But cooking with charcoal indoors produces air pollution that has deleterious health effects: The leading causes of death for children under five worldwide are respiratory issues. Woods and Foote realized that transforming waste into charcoal briquettes could provide a cleaner fuel that burns longer and produces less smoke.

Since officially kicking off in 2014, Sanivation is serving 100 households in urbanizing communities and refugee camps in Naivasha, and it is projected to be at 500 households by end of next year. Their project in Kakuma will hit 300 households by next June. With the aim of serving over 1 million people by 2020, they strive to provide a market-driven business solution based on community input and involvement and to demonstrate that providing sanitation service for the “bottom of the pyramid” can be a profitable and impactful social enterprise.

Tyler Karahalios B.A. ’16, the Business Lead of Sanivation, feels that she “won the lottery” with her work at Sanivation. “I live in the most beautiful place in the world … and I work with the most passionate and innovative people.” An international relations major, Karahalios joked that she “minored in study abroad,” having traveled to Barcelona, Capetown and Ecuador through the Bing Overseas Studies Program. She was involved with the Stanford Volunteers in Latin America and the Global Women’s Water Initiative, and she developed the National Endowment For Democracy’s Liberia portfolio.

Approaching graduation, Karahalios said, she knew that she wanted to work in development, but not in the traditional NGO approach. Having worked in East Africa before, she talked to a friend in Kenya who recommended that she reach out to Sanivation. “This opportunity came through just three days before graduation,” said Karahalios. “It’s really worth taking the time to think about what you want your career trajectory to be and what will be fulfilling and meaningful for you.”

And this Christmas, you can fill your stockings of your friends, loved ones and enemies with shit, all for a good cause! Sanivation is launching a holiday campaign to raise awareness of the necessity of sanitation access for all and to raise funds to help meet its goal of installing at least 50 more toilets by the end of the year. Their Indiegogo project, called “Santa’s Stinkiest Stocking,” ends on Dec. 20.

This might be one of the only opportunities you have where you can literally “give back by giving a shit.” So donate, and add some charcoal briquettes to your stocking stuffers. Your relatives and the world will thank you for your investment in the power of poop.


Contact Vivian Lam at vivlam25 ‘at’

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