Posted by: jordanermilio | February 24, 2011

What Will the Pigs Eat?

East Timor, Jordan Ermilio

Manauben Elementary School, East Timor. Photo by Jordan Ermilio

One of the more important priorities of any community based project– especially with our projects in Waslala– is to ensure that the project is in fact sustainable and that the technologies used are appropriate for the area.

The best way of ensuring sustainability and appropriate technology is to include the community in the initial stages of the project, during the project planning and design phase. This instills a sense of ownership in the project and can provide the means of avoiding some costly mistakes in both time and money. I learned this lesson the hard way after a project where I implemented an environmental health program during post-conflict reconstruction efforts in East Timor.

The East Timor program offered a thorough solution to a complex problem, and included a three-fold technique to alleviating some of the needs of poor communities in a very devastated region of the world: health education, sanitation and the construction of water supply infrastructure.

Our project was to rehabilitate 24 schools and to include water supply and sanitation facilities for the surrounding communities in each project. We were given a 12-month timeframe to complete this work which meant that we needed to complete 2 projects every month. After completing our first round of pilot projects, our project team felt that we had a very good understanding of the community’s needs and decided to expand our efforts by standardizing the designs of the sanitation facilities with a typical septic and waste stabilization system.

Upon completion of all of the projects, we decided to complete a self-evaluation survey by spot-checking some of the projects and interviewing some of the local beneficiaries. When we returned to the community of  Solamnasi (where we had rehabilitated 20 wells and built 6 school latrines) we noticed immediately that the toilets we not being used. This was apparent because the doors on the front of the latrines were locked and the grass in the area around the facility was completely overgrown. We called for a meeting to address the issue and all of the village leaders and parents attended. As we broached the topic, people started yelling and raising their hands to speak their minds chaotically.

After much deliberation in a language that I hardly understood, a question arose: “If our children go to the bathroom in this facility, then what will the pigs eat?”

(And you better believe that was the last time I made that mistake in project planning! Needless to say, I make sure we enroll the communities of Waslala in almost every stage of the planning and construction processes 🙂 )



  1. […] a past blog post, “What would the pigs eat?”, Jordan Ermilio, the Director of Water System Engineering, wrote about his experience with a […]

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