In rural Nepal, a sanitation project has helped clear the air between an oppressed group and its higher-caste neighbors.
Toilets for Peace has led to improved relations between Dalits and non-Dalits in Udayapur, Nepal, by providing a better means for Dalits to relieve themselves. This has also led to improved health conditions in this rural community.
In many rural areas of developing countries, and even in some remote parts of industrialized nations like the United States, modern toilets that flush to underground plumbing are uncommon. In these places, many people use outhouses or pit latrines, a deep hole lined with stones, with a ceramic or plastic squatting pan, and a simple superstructure made of locally-available materials. Water for flushing and cleaning is provided in a bucket.
Dalits are comprised of more than 20 caste groups that are relegated to the lower rungs of Nepali society. They are poor, unable to own property and land, limited to menial jobs, and unable to worship inside temples or some churches because some consider them “unclean.”
In Udayapur, Kamala Devi Damai and her large family are among the Dalits living in rows of small, mud-built houses. Her children and others had been relieving themselves along roadsides or in fields owned by non-Dalits. This angered their high-caste neighbors, many of whom have latrines. But the Damai family and other Dalits saw no alternative, given their lack of land and financial resources. This situation even caused tensions among Dalits as they all endured the foul odors and stepping in much more than brown mud.
In 2009, the Dalit Sahayog Samaj (Dalit Help Society), with financial and technical support from the United Mission to Nepal, built 30 toilets, or outhouses, on a strip of public land adjoining the fields in the community. About 75 households and 210 individuals have benefited, according to UMN, which is a Mennonite Mission Network partner. Care Nepal, a separate organization, had previously provided about 10 toilets, said Bimala Shrestha, who at the time was the program officer for Peace Building with UMN and helped to launch the program.
“Their broken relationship was restored,” Shrestha said. “In our small supports, we could see big changes in their communities.”
The community is cleaner and healthier, relationships are more cordial, and women in particular are happy that the toilets provide more privacy and safety. A committee monitors and manages the toilets. Witnessing the benefits, non-Dalits have begun building toilets on their lands for their families.
“I have been impressed with the practicality of this solution to a multi-layered problem,” said John F. Lapp, a UMN board member who is also Asia director for Mennonite Mission Network. “Toilets for Peace provides a very real conflict-inhibiting mechanism in the society, as well as an important improvement to the community’s sanitation and health situation.”
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Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.