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On World Toilet Day, Caritas Freetown in Sierra Leone Constructs Slum’s Only Five Toilets

One of the toilets offered by Caritas Freetown to the Culvert Slum Community in Sierra Leone.

For a long time in Sierra Leone, residents of Culvert Slum Community outside the county’s capital Freetown lived without toilets and practiced open defecation, adding to the dirt that the slum was already covered in.

But as the world marked the toilet day Thursday, November 19, the members of the slum community in the West African country were jubilant as they celebrated the launch of two toilets, thanks to the efforts of Caritas Freetown which runs charitable projects in the slum.

The two new toilets bring the total number of toilets constructed by the charity arm of the Catholic Church in Sierra Leone’s Freetown Archdiocese to five, serving nearly half the slum population, which is estimated at 14,000.

The five toilets are better than nothing, according to Fr. Peter Konteh, the Executive Director of Caritas Freetown.

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“Caritas Freetown had to do something because before we came, the residents practiced open defecation, commonly referred to as the helicopter method. They threw the excrement wrapped in plastic bags outside their houses and this made the situation of the slum worse,” Fr. Konteh told ACI Africa Friday, November 20, a day after the UN World Toilet Day.

The theme for this year’s World Toilet Day celebration is “Sustainable Sanitation and Climate change” where efforts are made to provide sanitation to some 4.2 billion people who are living without access to safely managed sanitation, according to the UN.

“Everyone must have sustainable sanitation, alongside clean water and handwashing facilities, to help protect and maintain our health security and stop the spread of deadly infectious diseases such as COVID-19, cholera, and typhoid,” Fr Konteh told ACI Africa, making reference to the annual event. 

Recalling the events of the launch of the new toilets, the Catholic Cleric told ACI Africa that the people were overjoyed and promised to put the toilets, which Caritas Freetown constructed with the support of Caritas Germany, to good use.

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“The people joyfully expressed their satisfaction as these facilities were handed over to them affirming that Caritas Freetown has always been there for them as first responder in disaster and other emergencies,” Fr. Konteh said.

He added in reference to the beneficiaries of the toilet initiative at Freetown’s Culvert Slum Community, “They also promised to properly use the facility for its intended purpose thereby restoring dignity and sanitation in the community.”

Residents of Culvert, a name that in fact means an underground drainage system, seem to lead the most deplorable lives in Sierra Leone, according to Fr. Konteh.

They suffer from various health complications owing to the large amounts of waste in the area that serves as the main waste disposal site outside Sierra Leone’s capital city.

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And for the longest time, residents of the slum suffer from flooding, which occurs annually and is made worse by the poor drainage system in the area.

This year, with the intervention of Caritas Freetown, working with the city council, carried out a flood mitigation program, which helped to reduce flooding.

“We worked very hard to clean the city and to unclog the sewerage systems that were blocked, thereby making the flooding more destructive. Because of the flooding mitigation program, residents didn’t witness severe flooding,” the Sierra Leonean Cleric told ACI Africa November 20.

Over the years, the charity arm of the Catholic Church in Freetown has also constructed makeshift bridges to link the Culvert community with basic amenities such as the toilet and the hospital to access health services.

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Caritas Freetown also facilitates mobile clinics in the slum to provide free health services to the residents, Fr. Konteh said.

Additionally, the charity organization has been providing women in the informal settlement with access to credit to start small businesses to empower them financially.

“Life isn’t easy in the slum. While men take up menial jobs to provide for their families, women mostly engage in prostitution to survive. The women empowerment project has been helpful to many households,” Fr. Konteh told ACI Africa.