My name is Carolyne Odero. I am a Kenyan citizen, born and bred in Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria. I am an employee at Kisumu’s water utility (KIWASCO). I work directly with people living in low-income areas and informal settlements, which are both characterized by poor sanitation. I am also the GOLD winner of the Lake Victoria Pooptank 2022!
Mr. Edwin Marita of Opero services first introduced me to Mr. Anthony Kilbride who was exploring the capacity needs of utilities around Lake Victoria, on the theme of condominial sewerage. Anthony mentioned the Pooptank and I saw an opportunity to apply with my innovation ‘Niko na role’.
‘Niko na role’ uses the ‘sheng’ slang language, basically a mixture of Swahili and English. ‘Niko’ is a Swahili word meaning ‘I have’, and role means role, or responsibility. Thus, ‘Niko na role’ = I have a role. The initiative advocates for individual responsibility for protecting Lake Victoria’s water, by fostering a respect for sanitation amongst schoolchildren using an approach called ‘CHAST’ (children hygiene and sanitation training in schools). The use of sheng was chosen to relate to the target group of schoolchildren, especially to overcome the ‘poop taboo’ and make sanitation ‘cooler’. ‘Niko na role’ aims to remind children that they too have a role to play in realizing a clean environment, healthy communities, and protecting Lake Victoria from pollution.
The Lake Victoria Pooptank initiative, by The Sanitation Innovation Fund, is special for many reasons, but I would like to highlight three:
First, it concerns Lake Victoria. In Luo, my native language, we call the Lake ‘NAM LOLWE’. ‘Nam’ means Lake, and ‘Lolwe’ means something enormous without an end. This freshwater lake that has no end, Africa’s largest, is very special. It is big enough to carry everyone’s burden. Growing up, Nam Lolwe was a source of livelihood for my kinsmen, they fished and still fish from the lake. KIWASCO abstracts its drinking water from the lake, so it is thus a source of livelihood for employees like me. Tourists visit Kisumu just to have a glance of Nam Lolwe. We have so many social and economic attachments to our Nam.
Second, The Pooptank funded my initiative. The Pooptank is not the first time I have presented Niko na role to the world, nor is it the first time I have been recognized through an award. I received a trophy for being the most innovative project in the AFWA water and sanitation conference held in Kampala Uganda on 23rd feb 2020, and for being the best in the Vijana and Dada sanitation awards during the 2021 WASPA youth and women water and sanitation conference in Kenya. However, only the Pooptank gave me an award which was supported by funding and technical mentoring through the Pooptank mentors network. So now I can do the work, which is very special.
Finally, two of the three Pooptank innovators are women from east Africa, and we won GOLD and SILVER! Considering that in our societies, sanitation roles are considered more suitable for men, and the sanitation sector has long been dominated by men, our participation in The Pooptank sends the message that women have an important role in sanitation. For The Sanitation Innovation Fund to believe in us and offer us equal opportunity to participate in this challenge without any form of discrimination, shows that the initiative is gender inclusive, and that is special.
On a very personal note, The 19th of July 2022 came with double blessings: I won Pooptank GOLD at midday East Africa Time, and gave birth to my second child (Warren Williams) at midnight! This was such a blessing!
I am already engaged with two schools where Nika na Role is to be rolled out. I have been creating child-friendly content which will be rolled out once schools open on the 26th of September. If I am successful, then I wish to onboard more schools, subject to the availability of funds. Nicola Greene from Opero Services is providing me with mentoring support to connect with as many potential partners as possible in order for Nika na Role to grow. Lakewide Inclusive Sanitation should be all inclusive and no one should be left behind if we are to create serenity throughout the Lake Victoria basin.
I would recommend The Lake Victoria Pooptank challenge to anyone who has some experience in sanitation, has an idea which needs support, and has passion about their Nam Lolwe. The Sanitation Innovation Fund has made it possible for young innovators to showcase what they can do: There’s hope! I believe more young people should not hesitate to participate.