Pit Toilets: Death Traps?

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Shoddily built pit toilets made from cheap metal are often left uncovered.  CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES

Many of us have more than one flushing toilets in our homes.  We have access to proper sanitation facilities.  When we use public washrooms, we can lock the doors of the stalls we use and when we’re done, we have running water and soap to wash our hands.  Sadly, this is not the case for many people.

For Hunaineh who lived in a collective shelter in Arbin, Syria, access to sanitation is still in the distant future. Attiya Hirji of Oxfam Canada shares Hunaineh’s story:

When nature called, we used to listen carefully to make sure there were no close clashes and then run to the nearest empty space to pee. Even now in this crowded shelter where the sewage system is not working properly, we still lack proper latrines. We sometimes have to queue for almost an hour to use the same dirty toilet that tens have used before.”

Oxfam is asking for donations to install water pumps and latrines.  They have organized water conservation and hygiene promotion sessions. Oxfam has also distributed hygiene kits across Syria containing washing powder, soap, shampoo and hygiene pads to help prevent the spread of disease.

Having access to a clean, working toilet can change lives and save them.  In South Africa, two children have drown in a pit latrine. Last year, three year old Omari Monono died in the outside toilet at his aunt’s house in Limpopo province, the same region where five-year-old Michael Komape drowned in a school toilet in 2014.  Omari’s mother, Kwena Monono said that her son “was pulled out of the toilet head-first at about 16:00 on Wednesday”, after having gone missing two hours earlier.  This mother was hurting over the loss of her son.  She was quoted as saying, “I’m hurting. I cannot eat or sleep.” and “Every time I see something my son loved, my heart breaks and I just cry.”

In March of last year, the death of 5-year-old Viwe Jali in a pit toilet at her school was a tragic accident waiting to happen, according to Section 27’s, Mark Heywood.  The little girl is believed to have drowned on Monday in her school toilet in the Eastern Cape.  She lay there overnight and was only found the next day.  Heywood says, “We know there is the danger of children falling into them because they are not protected properly.”  These toilets are a threat hygiene and health.  He went on to say that,  pit latrines in and of themselves are not the problem in rural areas where there is no water for example. It is the lack of safety measures that is the issue.  “It is the safety and the method of construction and the hygiene of the pit toilets.”  

Listen to this radio interview with Mark Heywood as he explains what the real problem behind the pit latrine deaths is and what his plans are to resolve it.

Last year, five year old Lumka Mkhethwa went missing at school in March and it was feared she had been abducted.  Her body was found the next day.   She had drowned after falling into a pit toilet in the grounds of Luna Primary in Bizana, South Africa.  Her tragic death caused an outcry prompting the government to announce that it will get rid of “hole-in-the-ground” toilets at more than 4500 state schools within two years.  “This is an initiative that will save lives and restore dignity to tens of thousands of our nation’s children, as our constitution demands,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on August 14, 2018.  “It will spare generations of young South Africans the indignity, the discomfort and the danger of using pit latrines and other unsafe facilities in our schools.

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This is the pit latrine where 5 year old Michael Komape died at his primary school in 2014.  Photo by GALLO

Pit latrines, sometimes called long-drop toilets, are a type of toilet that collects feces in a hole in the ground.  They are poorly constructed and are dangerous for children to use.  This is why young children like Omari, Michael and Lumka should have been accompanied by an adult.  Lumka’s father, Vuyani Mkhethwa said: ‘We do not understand how this happened. We were under the impression that children are escorted to the toilet at that age.” 

Omari’s aunt left him to relieve himself outside the toilet as usual while she was busy with her house chores when she noticed she had not seen the toddler for some time.  So, even though Omari wasn’t using the latrine, he should have still been monitored.  Maybe he got too close that time and fell in because as mentioned earlier, these latrines are often left uncovered.  What a heart-wrenching tragedy for his family, especially his mother and his aunt.  It was the aunt who called the police when she searched for the boy but couldn’t find him.

Pit latrines are considered basic sanitation yet, according to Water Aid, an estimated 27% of South Africans don’t even have access to basic sanitation and that is slightly lower than the global average of one third.   The UN defines basic sanitation as:

  • a flush or pour-flush toilet linked to a piped sewer system
  • pit latrines with a slab, septic tank or ventilation
  • a composting toilet.

About one in five South African schools have pit latrine toilets – BBC

According to spokesperson, Zukiswa Pikoli, the death of little Omari reinforces the need to eradicate pit toilets which and to provide communities and schools safe and adequate sanitation.  And this happened after the unfortunate death of five year old Lumka.  President Cyril Ramaphosa said that her death forced the government to act and ensure that decent sanitation is provided at all schools.  Eastern Cape has more than 1500 schools with pit latrines and 61 with no toilets at all.  “Schools should be places where children have fun, get educated, where they are safe.” He also said that schools should be the “heartbeat of wholesome communities”.

This World Toilet Day, Oxfam encourages all of us to take the Pay2Pee Challenge by donating $2 every time we use the toilet.  Together let’s “flush” this problem for good!

Sources:  BBC News; Oxfam Canada; Their World; 702

The Unlikely Spy

There were other reasons, too. Seventy-five percent of Jews survived in France. And so many non-Jews risked their lives to save ours. Wasn’t that our duty to defend our country too? It was our duty, absolutely – Marthe Cohn

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Image from The Portland Press Herald

Born a French Jew in Metz, France on 13 April 1920, Marthe Hoffnung never once imagined that she would one day become a spy in Nazi Germany.  She was one of seven children of an Orthodox Jewish.  They lived near the German border in France when Hitler rose to power. As the Nazi occupation expanded, her sister was sent to Auschwitz while her family fled to the south of France.

In the year 1944 after France was liberated, Marthe  enlisted and became a member of the Intelligence Service of the French 1st Army.  Following 14 unsuccessful attempts to cross the front in Alsace, she crossed the border into Germany near Schaffhausen in Switzerland.  She assumed the identity of a German nurse because of her Aryan appearance (blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin) and her ability to speak and read German fluently and claimed that she was searching for her missing fiancée. She provided critical information for the Allied commanders.

For her bravery, Marthe was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire.  At the age of 80, she received France’s highest military honor, the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour).  Her children didn’t know that this woman faced death daily to defeat the Nazi Empire.  Under extraordinary circumstances, this ordinary woman became the heroine for her country.  She helped to defeat the enemies of freedom.

After the war Marthe returned to France and pursued a career as a nurse.  In1956, while studying in Geneva, she met an American medical student, Major L. Cohn, who was a friend’s roommate.  Within three years, they got married and settled down in the United States. They worked together for years, he as an anesthesiologist and she as a nurse before they retired.

In 2002, Marthe co-authored with Wendy Holden a book about her experiences entitled, Behind Enemy Lines: the True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.  She is now 99 years old and is currently living with her husband husband in Palos Verdes, California.  She continues to tell her story because “human beings have very short memories and it’s extremely important to remind them of what happened.”  In particular, the extermination of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

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Today, on Remembrance Day, Notes to Women wishes to acknowledge and salute this brave woman who risked her life to help to put an end to an evil regime. She did her duty.

Let us remember all of the brave men and women who risked their lives for our freedom.

Sources: The Portland Press Herald; Wikipedia; TCU Place; Maine Public

The Path/Destination #writephoto

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Photo by Sue Vincent

A path flanked by trees stretches out before me.  I proceed cautiously because of the mist which unfurls like a ghost’s hand.  It clears as I draw closer.  That chases away the uneasiness in the pit of my stomach and my steps become bolder.  When I reach the other side, I am greeted by the brilliant light of the sun.  I smile as I leave the fog behind.

Sometimes in life, the path we travel on may seem unclear and uncertain but unless we continue walking in faith, we wouldn’t know what blessings are awaiting us at the other end.

This was written for the #writephoto Prompt – Destination at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

Women Astronomers

girl-looking-through-a-telescope-pietro-rotariThis painting of a young woman looking through a telescope is by Pietro Rotari, an Italian painter of the Baroque period.  He was born in Verona.  His career took him from place and he died in 1762 at the age of 55 in St Petersburg where he had traveled to paint for the Russian court.

He painted mostly women–some famous and his work was noted for its realism and beauty.  His art is showcased on this site.  This one struck me, though, because it is of a woman who is expressing and interest in science, specifically, astronomy.  During Rotari’s lifetime, there were notable women astronomers such as Maria Margaretha Kirch, a German who believed that she deserved an education equivalent to that given to young boys in her time.

At an early age, she showed an interest in astronomy and seized the opportunity to study with Christoph Arnold, a self-taught astronomer who worked as a farmer in Sommerfeld, near Leipzig.  She became his unofficial apprentice and later his assistant, living with him and his family.  She married the famous German astronomer and mathematician, Gottfried Kirch.

Maria was the first woman to discover a comet yet the Academy which she had made dedicated two decades of her life making it one of the foremost centres of astronomy, abandoned her after her husband died.  The academy turned down her request for her son to be appointed astronomer and that she be only his assistant. The institute was reluctant to set a precedent and feared ridicule from other institutions.  Maria spent 18 months petitioning the royal court for the position but received a final rejection in 1712.  Bitterly disappointed, she wrote in the preface to one of her publications that a woman could become “as skilled as a man at observing and understanding the skies”.

However, despite the disappointments she encountered in her career, her publications drew the recognition she deserved.  They included her observations on the Aurora Borealis (1707), a pamphlet on the conjunction of the sun with Saturn and Venus (1709), and a pamphlet in which she predicted a new comet (1711).

Nicole-Reine Lepaute was a French astronomer and Mathematician.  Her father was a valet for Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans, the wife of Louis I of Spain.  Nicole was described as precocious and intelligent, being mostly self taught who stayed up all night “devouring” books and read every book in the library.  She married Jean-André Lepaute, a royal clockmaker in the Luxembourg Palace.

At her suggestion and together with Jean-André, constructed a clock with an astronomical function.  The clock was presented to the French Academy of Science in 1753, where it was inspected and approved by Jérôme Lalande, the same man who once said of Nicole, that even as a child “she had too much spirit not to be curious”  She later worked on a book with him and her husband although she didn’t receive authorship.

Lalande recommended that she and along with mathematician, French mathematician, astronomer, and geophysicist,  Alexis Clairault calculate both the predicted return of Halley’s Comet and the attraction of Jupiter and Saturn of the Halley’s comet.  In November 1758, the team presented their conclusion that the comet would arrive on 13 April 1759.  The actual arrival of the comet was 13 March 1759.  Not bad for a prediction and as a result of their calculations, that was the first time scientists had successfully predicted when the comet would cross the point of the comet orbit closest to the Sun.

Sadly, Clairault didn’t recognize Nicole did not recognize her work at all in his work which greatly upset Lalande.  He considered her the “most distinguished female French astronomer ever.”  He acknowledged her help in an article.  Good for him.

Nicole was again a part of Lalande’s team.  This time she worked with him to calculate the ephemeris of the transit of Venus.  While it is not recorded what her contribution to this project was, in 1761, she she was acknowledged by being inducted as an honorary member of the distinguished Scientific Academy of Béziers.   The pair collaborated for fifteen years on the Academy of Science’s annual guides for astronomers and navigators by developing ephemerides: tables that predict the location of the stars on each day of the year.

After her death, Lalande wrote about her contributions to astronomy. In 1762, Lepaute calculated the exact time of a solar eclipse which occurred on 1 April 1764 and wrote an article in which she gave a map of the eclipse’s extent in 15-minute intervals across Europe and predicted the time and percentage each are in Europe would experience.  And for the years 1774-1784, she calculated the ephemeris of the Sun, the Moon and the planets.

Both Maria Margaretha Kirch and Nicole-Reine Lepaute contributed greatly to science and has made it possible for women of all ages, color, nationalities to follow in their footsteps.  Today, we want to take this time to recognize them for their groundbreaking work and give them the credit they deserve.

 

Sources:  The Woman Gallery; Wikipedia; Epigenesys; Encyclopedia; AstroChix

Following Her Passion

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Dieynaba Sidibe. Photo: Ricci Shryock/ONE

How do people react when they learn that she’s Senegal’s first female graffiti artist?  Do they grimace because they believe that women shouldn’t paint or do they applaud her for following her passion?

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This is based on Dieynaba Sidibe, Senegal’s first female graffiti artist. Through her artistic expression, Dieynaba wanted to show solidarity for women, because “all women, everywhere, whether they are fishmongers, graffiti artists or office workers, we are all fighters. Women are fighting to be free to do what they want, to do work that pleases them, to be paid equally to men, and to follow their passion.”

If you want to read more about her, click Here.

This was written for the Weekend Writing Prompt by Sammi Cox. For instructions, click Here.

Emily Wilson

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Shy and accomplished in school, she comes from a long line of academics.

Her works include The Death of Socrates and Six Tragedies of Seneca.

She was interested in the ways and methods that Socrates used to educate people and his death as an image.  Her interest in Seneca stemmed from the fact that, “he’s so precise in articulating what it means to have a very, very clear vision of the good life and to be completely unable to follow through on living the good life.”

In 2017, Emily Wilson, British classicist and professor, became the first woman to publish a translation of Homer’s Odyssey, the  second oldest extant work of Western literature into English.

 

115 Words

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This was written for the Weekend Writing Prompt by Sammi Cox. For instructions, click Here.

Source:  Wikipedia

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

She changed the face of medicine

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

It was being raised by a kind aunt who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors and her desire to relieve the suffering of others which led Rebecca Lee Crumpler down the a career path that would earn her the distinction of being the first African American woman physician in the United States.   In doing so, she rose to and overcame the challenge which prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine.

Rebecca, a bright girl, attended the West-Newton English and Classical School in Massachusetts, a prestigious private school as a “special student”.  In 1852 she moved to Charleston, Massachusetts where she worked as a nurse.  In 1860, she took a leap of faith and applied to medical school and was accepted into the New England Female Medical College.

The college was founded by Drs. Israel Tisdale Talbot and Samuel Gregory in 1848 and in 1852,  accepted its first class of women, 12 in number.  However, Rebecca proved that their assertions were false when, in 1864, she earned the distinction being the first African American woman to earn an M.D. degree and  the college’s only African American graduate.  The college closed in 1873.

In 1864, a year after her first husband, Wyatt Lee died, Rebecca married her second husband, Arthur Crumpler.   She began a medical practice in Boston.   In 1865, after the Civil War ended, the couple moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she found “the proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children.”  She joined other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise would not have access to medical care.  She worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau, missionary and community groups in the face of intense racism which many black physicians experienced while working in the postwar South.

Racism, rude behavior and sexism didn’t diminish Rebecca’s zeal and valiant efforts to treat a “very large number of the indigent and others of different classes in a population of over 30,000 colored”.  She declared that “at the close of my services in that city, I returned to my former home, Boston where I entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment, regardless, in measure, of remuneration.”

The couple lived in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Beacon Hill where she practiced medicine.  In 1880, she and her husband moved to Hyde Park.  It was believed that at that time she was no longer in active practice but she did write a “A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts”,  the first medical publication by an African American.  The book consisted of two parts.  The first part focused on “treating the cause, prevention, and cure of infantile bowel complaints, from birth to the close of the teething period, or after the fifth year.” The second section contained “miscellaneous information concerning the life and growth of beings; the beginning of womanhood; also, the cause, prevention, and cure of many of the most distressing complaints of women, and youth of both sexes.”

Rebecca Lee Crumpler died in Hyde Park on March 9, 1895.  Notes to Women wishes to celebrate this brave woman who had the tenacity to pursue a career in medicine, proving that women can change the face of a field which many wanted to bar her from because of color and gender.  Her passion to help alleviate the suffering of others was what led her to take this path.  Her courage and perseverance in the face of racism, sexism paved the way for many, not only African Americans and women but for those who like her, will seek every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler’s story is a reminder to all of us that we should never let anything or anyone prevent us from pursuing our dreams.

Selfish prudence is too often allowed to come between duty and human life – Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Sources:  Changing the Face of Medicine; PBS