Caritas Freetown’s Toilets Initiative Restoring Dignity of Sierra Leone’s Slum Residents

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

Culvert slum’s version of hanging toilets are little wooden, plastic and stone structures fitted with pipes that pour into the sewage that runs below them.

Isata Samura who has been living in the slum outside Sierra Leone’s Capital city, Freetown, for over two decades, used the hanging toilets for years. She tells ACI Africa that there was no dignity in lining up to use the toilets, especially in broad daylight. “We had no alternative. They were all we had,” she says.

“You see that one over there partly covered with plastic bags? A man just entered it,” Isata Koroma, a mother of three who was born and raised in Culvert, chips in as she leads the way across the sewage, balancing herself on the stones placed in the dirty sewage to prevent those crossing from falling into the filthy water.

She explains that to use the hanging toilets, especially those without a pipe, one has to position themselves properly, with their back turned towards the sewage so that their waste falls in the dirty water below and is swept away. This way, the toilets not only pose health risks to users, but also offer no privacy to the one using them.

Before Caritas Freetown intervened and started constructing modern toilets around the settlement, women would use what the residents referred to as ‘black buckets’ during the day, keep the bucket contents in their houses, and only empty them into the sewage at night, under the cover of darkness.


With the use of the hanging toilets, it is not just the dignity of the slum residents that is stripped off. The emptying of human waste in the gutters has led to the outbreak of diseases such as cholera and typhoid in the slum. Consequences of poor drainage and flooding as a result of clogged drainage systems have also been witnessed.

In the distance, a little girl carrying a bucket can be seen walking barefoot in the sewage, collecting little pieces of stones. To make a living, residents here collect stones and sell them at construction sites. Other economic activities here include granite mining in the polluted rivers and gutters, charcoal selling and petty trading of household items.

Filled with all manner of waste, the open drains sometimes get clogged during the rainy season, causing floods that sweep away houses in the slums. Whenever this happens, hundreds of households are left homeless and are most times forced to start life afresh.

In the recent flooding incidents that occurred from August 14 to 17 and between August 27 and 28, Culvert, which has a population of 9,193 was the worst hit, according to an assessment that was conducted by Caritas Freetown.

The assessment indicated that 2,400 people, representing 85 percent of the slum community’s total population, were rendered homeless in the first flooding incident. 

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In the second flooding incident that occurred between August 27 and 28, an estimated 12,000 people were affected in Culvert alone when torrential downpour left houses clogged in mud, electricity poles fallen, descending boulders, among a series of other damages.

A baseline survey conducted by Caritas Freetown in Culvert, in particular, with finance and support from Caritas Germany, indicates that the slum neighborhood is “exposed to piles of waste, diseases and malaria especially during the rains.”

Today, few residents of Culverts still use the hanging toilets. Many are now enjoying the privacy of the modern toilets that Caritas Freetown constructed in the informal settlement.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Senesie Koroma, Caritas Freetown Disaster Management Outreach Officer, said that the charity arm of the Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown first divided Culvert into six zones and constructed a toilet for each zone. 

The zoning was also to facilitate Caritas Freetown’s other interventions in the occurrence of floods, fires, and other disasters that the slum community frequently experiences.


The Catholic entity also constructed additional toilets for each of the three schools that serve the community, and fitted all the toilets with water systems to encourage the washing of hands after using them.

The charity organization has also put structures in place to ensure that the toilets are well maintained.

 “We realized that some people were soliciting money from residents before they are allowed to use the toilets. We are working with a team from the community’s disaster management office to ensure that everybody uses the toilets without being overcharged. The only thing we asked the residents to do was to ensure that the toilets are well maintained,” he said.

Mr. Koroma told ACI Africa that all Caritas intervention programs in slums outside Freetown started in Culvert in 2015.

“We do disaster management and disaster risk management in Culvert, Susan’s Bay and KrooBay. But we have a greater presence in Culvert,” he said, adding that apart from latrines, Caritas Freetown has constructed footbridges and water wells for the slum population.

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To reduce the risks of fires, diseases and other disasters in Culvert, the Caritas Disaster Management office also works with the city council to popularize Freetown Municipality by-laws such as proper disposal of waste.

The development arm of the Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown has also introduced recycling of waste, an initiative that employs young people in the slum who make floor tiling materials from plastics and granite. Proceeds from the recycling business are shared equally among the 30 youths on the program. They also save part of the money and take loans from the savings to start small businesses.

The recycling business is aimed at cleaning the slum and helping the youth drawn from the six culvert zones to make a living while at it.

Expressing gratitude to the Church entity, Ms. Koroma said, “In all disasters we have faced, Caritas has never failed us. They are always the first to arrive here whenever an incident such as fire or floods happens. And they are always the last to leave after ensuring that we are comfortable. They always leave us with food, beddings, and money in envelopes to help us start life afresh.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.