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Student builds flush toilet for her family

July 7, 2013

Residents in the Western Cape resorted to spraying human waste to voice their grievances – but that’s not the way, says a young Joburg woman.

Candice Sehoma, 21, of 8th Avenue in Alexandra, knows first-hand how degrading bucket toilets can be and how an individual’s dignity is compromised by using them.

The former Waverley Girls’ High School pupil used for most of her life urine-drenched, filthy and faeces-laden toilets set on a pavement along a main road outside her home in the township. These toilets serviced 50 households with more than 100 families.

Petite Sehoma, who can easily be mistaken for a teen, took us through her life experiences this week, describing how she, her family and neighbours heard cars and taxis hooting and speeding past while they were in the cubicles.

“These toilets were never clean. During the day I attended a school in the suburbs where I used clean toilets.

“But coming back home was always a grim reality. There was often random faeces on the seats.

“I was constantly embarrassed to bring friends home. Imagine going to the toilet during the day and the next thing a friend passes by and waves at you. It’s oh so embarrassing,” she said.

It was this discomfort that inspired Sehoma to establish her own project called Building Blocks Foundation. The foundation’s core aim is to ensure the end of bucket toilets in the township and the installation of proper sanitation facilities.

It all began when she attended workshops at the Gordon Institute of Business Science while she was in Grade 12.

There, Sehoma was subsequently selected as a One Young World leader and later attended a global conference in Pittsburg, California.

But her studies demanded most of her time, so Sehoma set aside her ambitions and focused on getting her National Senior Certificate. Yet her passion gnawed at her. “I somehow couldn’t forget about it. It has been a passion that I’ve wanted to fulfil for a long time.”

After her exams she gathered a group of five friends and began knocking on doors to inform community members about her vision. The response was positive.

“Building Blocks is not about waiting for handouts from government. It is a self-funded, community-based project. It is about taking the initiative.”

After countless meetings and much-convincing of older people to buy into her idea, Sehoma, her team and the community raised R7 000, contributed by various families.

The money was used to buy building and toilet materials. Today these families use two flush toilets set in a solid structure. As a result the bucket toilets near her home no longer exist. Each household has a key and each takes a turn to clean the facility.

“We no longer have to worry about the nightmare we were subjected to or whether someone would walk into the cubicle while we were busy. We no longer have to worry about walking to the toilet at night and being mugged,” said neighbour Refilwe Sehlangu.

Meanwhile, Sehoma, now a second-year psychology student with Unisa, believes more work beckons.

“It hasn’t been easy. Some people love the idea, but withdraw when we mention money. But there is no greater feeling than being responsible for something you’ve built yourself,” she said.

Down the road from Sehoma’s home lives Evans Marutha, 54. He said the three remaining bucket toilets near his shack were filled to the brim.

As a result he walks some distance to use toilets in another avenue.

“Regardless of whether I am sick at night I have no option but to run to those toilets.”

As Marutha spoke, a group of young children were playing with dead rats near the soiled toilets, while women washed clothes.

Sehoma said she had already approached the City of Joburg regarding her idea and to give them building plans.

She could not build more toilets yet as Joburg Water had told her the sewerage system needed to be upgraded.

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