By Moonyeen King
President of the Board for Tepehua
What a difference a Month makes! Last month’s article regarding portable toilets for the congested areas of Tepehua, where the inhabitants have no toilets and have to use open defecation, minimized a massive problem that has since driven the Tepehua Team back to the drawing board. Further survey through the month, and many letters from our readers to Moonie made us look harder at cost and maintenance. Thank you to our readers who took the time to contact the team, some to tell us where we were going wrong and others where we were on the right track, all constructive observations from first hand experiences.
The long term use of portables requires cleaning three times a day, and uses an abundance of chemicals, etc. The high cost of servicing made the price in the long run prohibitive and the problems of a health hazard still remained but in a different way. And it was still only a band-aid instead of a permanent solution. The only good thing about it was that it saved water. If something interfered with the waste pick-up routine, which could certainly happen, the disgusting disaster left behind is unthinkable. And we are not talking just one portable but multiple.
The only way to solve this is solid-built communal toilets attached to sewers where the waste is properly treated and removed. The plan for Tepehua has entirely changed.
The New York Times-Sunday Review March, 2021 states: “America is not made for people who pee!” by Nicolas Kristof. ‘While America needs bridges and highways, its most disgraceful infrastructure failure is the lack of public toilets.’ unquote. If only that were just the problem here.
When Mexico’s poor find a place to build a home, the intent is to build a shelter from the elements first, and think about the luxury of toilets and kitchens later. Few homes are built in the West without laying the plumbing first.
The following is the decision we have made to stop open defecation in the streets and save the health of our children. We are going to build a pilot program attached to the Tepehua Center, so we can monitor the safety and the sanitation aspect of a community shared bathroom. If this works for us in 2021, we then have the floor plan and the proof it can work to get the local Government involved in a plan to put one in all the congested areas. Plus help from the private sector. Our pilot toilet will be attached to the sewer system and the same water as the Center. We will be responsible for the maintenance, and the women who volunteer for the Center in return for help sending their children to school, free medical and dental, will make sure the sanitation meets all standards. We have a bodega at the back of the center attached to the medical unit that we can rehabilitate into a communal toilet with access to the street. The village of Tepehua has over 7,000 souls living there, 50% of whom have no toilets in their home. This is a massive problem and certainly one community toilet will be like a pee in the ocean...but everything starts with one. If this works for one area it can work for others, and because the area is so vast it is not something to be solved in one shot.
There are other solutions - make the tin roofs strong enough to hold tinacos (water tanks), then attach the home to the sewer and water; or raze the whole barrio to the ground and build tenements. A better class of slum like Government housing.
Toilets and paper and potable water are luxury items for the poor. We will have them all, the impossible is just taking a little longer to solve. Keep your advice coming, it is invaluable. A pilot program is now written in stone. Your travel soap bars would be gratefully accepted.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com
MOONYEEN PATRICIA KING
Column: Profiling Tepehua
Settled in Mexico 13 years ago. The intention was to retire into the arts as a writer, poet and painter...that didn’t happen. Beneath the smiles of the peoples of Mexico there was such a great need for change, especially for the women and children of the barrios, Moonyeen has dedicated these years to change the face of this little corner of the world. The work done by the volunteers of the Tepehua Community Center is teaching that change is possible anywhere. Moonyeen was portrayed as “Woman of the Year,” also two Paul Harris Rotary awards for the work done at Tepehua. “Life in Mexico is very fulfilling. The Mexican people give so much more to us immigrants than we can possible return.