Let’s hear from Oo Shwe Than, who joined Oxfam in Myanmar two months ago. He oversees the monitoring activities of the Tiger Worm Toilet (TWT) project in Sittwe.
When I first saw tiger worms I did not feel any disgust because when I was young I used to fish with worms. During my first days as TWT project staff I discovered that tiger worms are different to local worms: they eat poo and process it into a valuable fertilizer for agriculture. What precious little creatures the worms are!
The first monitoring visit was hard for me though: closely inspecting poo, opening pits to measure poo accumulation and check conditions of the worms’ bedding layer: not the most pleasant job! Nevertheless, having the opportunity to be involved in the supervision of the whole sanitation lifecycle – from construction, supervision and worm harvesting from wormeries – to meeting the users and sharing my feelings with the project focal points helped me understand just how crucial monitoring is.
The monthly inspection I conduct for each Tiger Worm Toilet is part of a monitoring protocol and allows the collection of vital data to assess how effective and appropriate this innovative sanitation technology is. Collecting data enables evidence on the TWT to be built, so it is critical to the research project. Globally this data will be combined with other TWT projects Oxfam is implementing in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.
Rainy season in Myanmar started in June and this period is very important to test the toilets’ performance; it can rain very heavily, groundwater level rises and pits can flood. Say Tha Mar Gyi camp is in a relatively high location surrounded by paddy fields. TWTs here are built higher than those in the fields with pits partly above ground (with concrete walls), to ensure the worms are safe inside the pit even in heavy rains.
During the monitoring, I happened to notice pieces of wood, cigarettes, sanitary pads and other waste in the TWT pit. I let the users know not to dispose of waste in the TWT. It is important to be always in touch with them, explaining and reminding people how to use the toilet to make sure it works well. Community mobilisation and listening is also a big part of my work!
As part of the project we also try to have a deep understanding on who the users are and how the use of the toilets can improve their lives – listening to their voices and opinions. We often conduct focus group discussions to gain feedback: while women are more open to this kind of experience sharing, it is sometimes difficult to involve men and fit into their daily work schedule.
In Mingan village, rainy season is a difficult time! The village is built on low marshy land and the monitoring has shown that some of the TWT pits were flooded. The good news is that in some of these pits baby worms were found. This shows us how strong and resilient the worms are, which is promising for TWTs in flood-prone areas.
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