I recently read a wonderful book, The Big Necessity by Rose George. George explores the worldwide problem of sanitation, examining the poor sanitation that most people in the developing world live with. In many countries, in place sanitation, meaning shitting in the streets, is the highest level of sanitation given most residents. Of course, as Third World cities have grown in size, the risk of disease from this practice is enormous, especially in the shanty towns springing up around major cities in Africa, Asia, and the Asian subcontinent.
Fixing this problem is not rocket science. We in the West have enjoyed the privilege of good sanitation for at least a century, and effective sanitation technology has been around since the Roman Empire. There are no technical hurdles to overcome, it is all a matter of logistics, money, and will. There are many lower-cost alternatives to the infrastructure-heavy systems we use in the West, but there is also plenty of low-cost labor to build heavy infrastructure when required.
One thing leads to another. I work at a large non-profit public health organization, and I struck up a conversation with a co-worker about this fantastic book. She was intrigued, and told me about a small organization called S.O.I.L. (Sustainable Integrated Organic Livelihoods) that is working to solve the sanitation problems that plague the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti’s problem’s only worsened when the January 12, 2010 earthquake wrecked the country, killing thousands and displacing many thousands more.
After working at a large non-profit for a while, I’ve become convinced that in the non-profit world, bigger isn’t always better. S.O.I.L. is the kind of small, direct action organization with employees willing to get dirty, solving problems where it matters most, in the countries and with the people who need the most assistance. That is why earlier this year I committed to become a regular (or as regular as I can afford) supporter of S.O.I.L. and I encourage you to do the same. I’ve included a short video by Nicolas Kristof, author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, about S.O.I.L.