Toilets: Balancing customer aspirations and affordability


Fulfilling a customer’s request for a permanent toilet in Vanuatu

The Community-based Sanitation Enterprises established in PNG, Vanuatu, Fiji and Solomon Islands are continuing their sales and construction of toilets. In Vanuatu a customer has purchased a toilet with a permanent building constructed of concrete. In Kimbe, PNG, the sanitation enterprises have built pour-flush toilets for an elementary school. They are also trialling a low cost biogas and septic toilet system – which will be the first technology of its kind in West New Britain province. The low-cost biogas and septic toilet system was built during a four-day construction training as part of the on-going mentoring and monitoring for the two sanitation enterprises in Kimbe.


The construction work on the pilot low cost household biogas and septic system in PNG

An important part of the sanitation marketing approach is matching affordability to customer aspirations. The sanitation enterprises have different strategies for working with customers when aspirations for a type of toilet don’t fit their income. These include:

  • Sales staff are mentored to practice building sales conversations that direct customers to an affordable alternative to the option they initially sought (for example a VIP when they initially wanted a flush toilet).
  • A range of toilet design and payment options are provided, with steps of improvement based on additional payments (start with a VIP, then move to a pour flush with septic, etc)
  • Cost reduction opportunities through customers providing some labour and materials
  • Looking for opportunities for households to share toilets
  • Selling toilet parts in components (seat riser, slab, septic, shelter, etc

Live & Learn has also worked with a technical advisor from Engineers Without Borders to  adpat the toilet designs so they are as affordable as possible.


Digging the pits for pour flush toilets at an elementary school in PNG

Live & Learn’s sanitation marketing program is funded by the Australian government through the Civil Society WASH Fund. Support provided by Engineers Without Borders if funded by the Australian government through the ANCP program.

Students speak out on menstruation in Kavieng, PNG

Over 300 students from three schools in Kavieng District spent a day together to talk about the importance of menstrual hygiene.


Role Plays and dramas were part of the activities by the participating primary schools from Kavieng District area. One drama demonstrated a situation where a girl student experiences shame when she gets her period at school.

Students conducted a debate between teams from each of the participating schools that discussed knowledge, accessibility, hygiene and other information on menstruation. Students were also involved in presenting songs and speeches about the importance of respect for girls.



Menstruation hygiene kits provided to Vanuatu schools



School management and teachers from six schools in Port Vila, Vanuatu, came together for a two day induction workshop to establish their Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) in Schools programs. They also participated in a special focus program on Menstrual Hygiene Management, which included the Acting Director of Education in Vanuatu, the National Director of the Primary School Program, the Deputy Principal Education Officer for Shefa Province and the Natinoal Early Childhood Education Coordinator (pictured above).

During the two days participants discussed WASH and the 15 education standards in Vanuatu, and explored how good hygiene and access to safe sanitation contributes to academic success and economic growth. They also participated in activities to understand the dynamics of behaviour change and how WASH activities can fit into overall school commitment to improving health. Opportunities to influence hygiene behaviour change in the schools were documented for teachers, students, parents, school council, and also the cleaning and maintenance staff.


Each school established its WASH Committee during the meetings, and were briefed on the baseline data collection process that Live & Learn will conduct in partnership with the WASH Committee members in each school. The participants also explored the concept of WASH Champions and made plans for establishing student-led WASH Clubs in each school.

Live & Learn Vanuatu is working with Mama’s Laef to improve access to affordable, reusable sanitary pads. The Mamma’s Laef Washable Sanitary Pad project was established in Pango Village, Vanuatu in 2015. Washable Sanitary Pad kits are sewn by ni Vanuatu women. The kits are washable sanitary pads that are a comfortable, environmentally friendly alternative to disposable sanitary products. The kits have a life-span of 3 years and cost only 55 cents per month (compared to $3 a month for single use sanitary pads).



Representatives from Mama’s Laef presented kits of reusable sanitary pads to each of the six schools as part of a special event during the induction workshop to mark the importance of addressing menstrual hygiene in the WASH in Schools program. Pictured above is Mr Webster, Chairman of Freshwater Bilingual School, receiving a reusable sanitary pad kit from Mama’s Laef. Freshwater Bilingual School is the biggest school in Vanuatu, with more than 1600 students). Mr Webster commented: “In my society, women are valued and treasured….Menstruation is not a period of segregation but a period of regeneration.”


Education Changes Everything #MenstruationMatters

Every month more than 300 million girls aged between 10-14 may dread the arrival of their period. A lack of adequate guidance, toilet facilities and sanitary materials for girls to manage their menstruation in schools causes girls to experience shame, fear, confusion. They face many challenges attempting to manage their menstruation – insufficient information, lack of social support, ongoing social and hygiene taboos, and a shortage of suitable water, sanitation and waste disposal facilities in schools. So many of these girls just stay home until they finish bleeding. They can miss a week of school every month.

In schools women and girls can face a hidden discrimination, with female students and teachers unable to manage their menstruation with safety, dignity, and privacy. This affects their ability to succeed and thrive within the school environment, which then reduces their economic potential and future health. Talk with girls in this age group and many share stories of experiencing fear, shame and embarrassment while in school. They struggle with lack of water, soap, privacy, space to change, adequate time to manage their menstruation comfortably and safely, and lack of access to hygienic sanitary products and sometimes underwear.
Female school teachers also struggle to manage their menstruation comfortably and privately in schools without adequate water and sanitation facilities. Many schools have more male administrators and teachers who may be unaware of or reluctant to talk about the challenges that schoolgirls and female teachers are facing. Boy students also report having little understanding about menstruation, and some tease and bully girls because they do not understand girls’ behaviours during menstruation.

Live & Learn works with schools in the South Pacific to improve water, sanitation and hygiene access, including the issue of menstruation. Menstrual hygiene is addressed through three areas:

  1. Providing menstrual hygiene management guidance
  2. Improving the physical and social facilities in the school
  3. The distribution of menstruation products



Live & Learn staff spend time with school leadership and teachers, encouraging open discussion about menstruation, and a participatory assessment of school water and sanitation facilities for girls and female teachers. Information is provided to teachers, school leaders, parents and students on the impact of girls staying home from school during their monthly menstruation. The schools then plan activities to reduce the social taboo concerning discussion of menstruation. Activities have included discussion groups, student clubs conducting awareness and information sessions to other students and parents, and special events in the school that focus on respect, dignity and raising funds for menstruation products.

One partner school launched a special flag to promote discussion about menstruation – pink and black (because girls like the colour pink but wear the colour black when they have their period). Another school created information posters and conducted awareness sessions to other students. Teachers in another school used drama and role play to share stories of their experience with menstruation and the importance of respect.



When Live & Learn starts working with a school a participatory assessment of water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and practice is done based on the UNICEF Bottleneck Analysis approach (insert link to blog article about BNA). All of our partner schools have inadequate facilities for women and girls to manage their menstruation with dignity. The school is coached to develop an action plan to improve water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and services, leveraging all sources of support the school can access. Live & Learn facilitates this in some partner schools through connecting the school to community-based sanitation enterprises who can provide improved school toilet facilities.
In one school in New Ireland, PNG, all 300 students and 13 staff were sharing two pit toilets (a toilet:student ratio of 1:150) The school management worked with the Kulangit sanitation enterprise to construct a permanent toilet block with a septic tank and two more improved pit toilets. The school now has eight toilets – four for boys and four for girls – and a toilet:student ratio of 1:37. Parents, school management, teachers and students contributed money and labour towards the cost of the toilet block. There were many immediate positive impacts, but one father told Live & Learn that since the opening of the new toilet block he is no longer worried about his girls having their period at school.



Accessing menstruation products is an ongoing headache for women and girls. Menstruation products are expensive, and items like food and other basic needs are priorities. In some places sanitary products are just not available. In many countries menstruation products are taxed, and not considered essential items. Many girls have to use reusable cloth, but they struggle to wash them without adequate access to soap or clean water. A study in Nairobi, Kenya, found that girls aged between 10-19 reporting having sex with older men to earn money to buy sanitary pads. Many women and girls can miss work or school due to vaginal infections caused by unsafe menstruation materials.

Schools partnering with Live & Learn are addressing access to menstruation products in different ways. Some schools have students bring products at the beginning of the year to the school that are available for girls when they need them. Other schools have conducted fundraising events to purchase sanitary pads. In Vanuatu Live & Learn connected our 8 partner schools to the Mama Laef Washable Sanitary Pad project. This is a project provides Washable Sanitary Pad kids sewn by local women. The kits last for three years.


Student Water, Sanitation & Hygeine (WASH) Clubs are established in all Live & Learn partner schools. During recent evaluation activities a Live & Learn staff member shared the following story:

I was working with students in a school WASH Club in Kavieng, New Ireland. We had finished working through some games to get their feedback on how the water and sanitation situation had improved in their school, so I told the kids they could return to their classes. Everyone stayed seated on the floor, the girls looking at each other to communicate some kind of quiet message. I understood that they wanted to tell me something more, so I waited. Finally through some kind of secret eyebrow ballot one of the girls knew she was selected as the spokesperson, so she stood up and cleared her throat a few times before speaking: “Before the school built the new toilets us older girls always stayed home every month during our menstruation. Now we come to school and don’t miss any days because the new toilet gives us a place to go.”
This was said in front of all the boys, and they didn’t laugh or roll their eyes, but sat respectfully and just listened. I complimented the girl on being brave enough to stand up and say this in front of the boys. Then I asked what was the biggest impact of being able to stay at school during their period. All the girls answered together: “We don’t miss out on classes, so our grades are better and we do better at school!”


Live & Learn’s WASH in Schools program is funded by the Australian government through the Civil Society WASH Fund. Support in integrating menstruation hygiene management into the WASH in Schools activities was provided by International Women’s Development Agency.
Research Source: Sommer M, CarusoBA, Sachin M, Calderon T, Cavill S, Mahon T, et al. (2016) A Time for Global Action: Addressing Girls’ Menstrual Hygiene Management Needs in Schools. PLoS Med 13(2): e1001962. Https:// 1001962

Portable toilet used in cyclone response

TopWan community based saniation enterprise have supported families in Teouma Valley, Vanuatu, with an improved toilet and hand-washing facility after they were displaced when Tropical Cyclone Donna damaged their homes. The families are currently sleeping in the community kindergarten building while they rebuild their homes. They were forced to use the bush as a temporary place to go to the toilet, and had no hand-washing facilities.


TopWan construction staff joined with Live & Learn staff and a representative from the Department of Public Health to meet the community leaders and discuss sanitation strategies for the families. A TopWan portable toilet and shelter has been constructed, and a portable hand-washing facility set-up. The facilities were used by the families over the weekend, and TopWan staff and Live & Learn will visit the community early this week to get some feedback from the community on the application of the Portable Toilet product in this kind of context.

TopWan staff were requested to visit Teouma Valley by the Shefa Provincial Government. This is the first time the TopWan sanitation enterprise has worked with government in disaster response, and the TopWan staff are happy that their products are able to support communities have safe sanitation while they rebuild their homes.


Funding support for the TopWan portable toilets used in the response has come through Live & Learn’s partnership with Engineers Without Borders Australia. TopWan community sanitation enterprise is supported by Live & Learn through the Australian government Civil Society WASH Fund.


Constructing Portable Toilets in Vanuatu


Six staff from the two Sanitation Enterprises in Port Vila, Vanuatu, recently improved their construction knowledge by participating in training to build their own tool boxes and portable toilet’s for people living with disabilities and children.

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The training was facilitated by Matt King, a volunteer through Engineers Without Borders who is providing technical mentoring to the sanitation enterprises on sanitation designs in challenging environments. The workshop was a combination of classroom lessons and practical exercises. After the workshop, each of the six construction staff are able to construct a standard toolkit box, knew how safety to use the tools, how to select sites for toilet locations, and how to construct portable toilets.

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Willie Cholie is one of the construction staff from the SAMAPETA Sanitation Enterprise at Erakor Half Road. He said, “I was so privilege to be part of the WASH-CBSE project. I learn a lot in this informative training practical. I will utilize what I learn and try to help my community through building a good and wealthy, healthy environment!”

The portable toilets are being sold through the recently launched TopWan sanitation brand following good publicity in Vanuatu newspapers and other media. Several toilets have been sold already and more are being constructed by both sanitation enterprises to meet customer demand.

Hygiene training for sanitation enterprises in Vanuatu

Staff from the two sanitation enterprises in Vanuatu recently participated in hygiene education sessions to build their understanding of the health benefits of good sanitation and washing hands with soap.


The SAMAPETA and Tuburah community-based sanitation enterprise staff participated in hygiene education activities based on Live & Learn’s Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) resources, including community hygiene and sanitation mapping exercises and how washing hands with soap disrupts the transmission pathways of many diseases.


Hygiene education like this is an important part of the hygiene promotion activities of the community-based sanitation enterprises. As part of generating demand for toilet ownership the sanitation enterprise need to be able to answers questions from potential customers in the community about the benefits of having an improved toilet.


The hygiene education sessions will be complemented by further training in social marketing methods for hygiene promotion, and hygiene promotion campaigns linked to toilet sales campaigns. Hygiene promotion using a social marketing approach combines education activities with marketing approaches that target the attitudes, habits and motivations of people in the community concerning their health.


The hygiene education training was provided by Live & Learn through the Western Pacific Sanitation Marketing & Innovation project, funded by the Australian government through the Civil Society WASH Fund.

Vanuatu toilets are the TopWan!

Today is a big day for two sanitation enterprises in Blacksand and Erakor Half Road because it is the launch of the TopWan Sanitation brand in Port Vila. TopWan branded toilet and sanitation products are produced, installed and sold by by Tuburah Sanitation Enterprise, and by SAMAPETA Sanitation Enterprise. To celebrate the launch, a special edition of TopWan branded Toilet Paper has been produced.

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The TopWan brand was launched by the Minister of Health, Honorable Jerome Ludvaune, and Australian High Commission Senior Program Manager Patrick Haines. Pictured above is Mr Patrick Haines revealing the TopWan logo together with the two women leaders of the sanitation enterprises. The launch is an outcome of a project implemented by Live & Learn Environmental Education Vanuatu called the Westen Pacific Sanitation Marketing & Innovation Program. This is a project funded by the Australian government through the CS WASH Fund to help improve sanitation and hygiene practices in peri urban areas in Port Vila. In his speech Honorable Jerome Ludvaune said that the Ministry is quite fortunate to be part of the event and to officially launch TopWan Brand. He mentioned that this is the first time in Vanuatu a community-based sanitation enterprise is established and will be the first locally owned sanitation enterprise. He is grateful to Live & Learn and DFAT in implementing this project in Shefa Province.


Tuburah and SAMAPETA sanitation enterprises operate Sanitation Parks in two areas in Port Vila for families interested in learning more about the types of TopWan toilet products available. The two community-based sanitation enterprise have been marketing in their community through talking about the products that they sell. One of the products that has caught the attention of many community members are portable toilets. Many families are interested in buying a portable toilets as this makes it easier for family members living with some form of disability to have access to sanitation. The TopWan portable toilet is easy to use and clean, and  and takes a huge burden from caregivers.


Growing Good Citizens

“These children, most of them come from the crowded homes on the plantation – four families in one house – and we tell them if you work hard here at school you can change your life through education!”


It was mid-afternoon, hot and steamy in PNG. I was sitting with two teachers, chatting on the balcony of a classroom while waiting for the Live & Learn car to come and take us home after spending the day with the WASH in Schools program in the school.

“We used to have a problem with fighting in the school, but since the child rights and peace program started we don’t have problems with fights. Now the children show respect. Now the children are working hard at their studies.”

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I had to agree with the teacher. I had just spent time with 60 of the students representing Grade 4 to Grade 8 in a hot sweaty classroom. I wanted their opinions on the work they had done through their Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) Club, and they were attentive, respectful, self-directed and thoughtful. In 2012 Live & Learn PNG worked with this school to conduct child development training, including child rights training and establishing a student peace club called Joyful Friends. The first students in the club were in Grade 3 – now these students are in Grade 8, about to graduate from primary school. The Live & Learn project ended, but the Joyful Friends club became fully integrated into the school culture. Now students from Grades 4 to 8 are selected each year to serve in Joyful Friends.

In 2014 Live & Learn returned to work with the school on a WASH in Schools program. Joyful Friends Club was operating well and the children were keen to participate in more projects. Now students in Joyful Friends are expected to make speeches at all school events. They have taken responsibility of assessing each classroom to make sure Hygiene Corners are stocked with toilet paper and soap. They have painted hygiene message murals on the walls of the toilet block, and successfully advocated with the teachers for the toilet doors to all be repaired so everyone has privacy when going to the toilet. The students in the club also serve as prefects for the school – conducting hand-washing demonstrations, making sure soap is on the toilet sinks, taking charge of the school gate, making sure rubbish is collected, the toilet cleaning responsibilities are fulfilled, etc

Another teacher told me how she left the school to teach in another one closer to town. After two years she returned to this school because she felt the learning environment was better and the students had more self-discipline. When she returned she could immediately see that the Joyful Friends club had been working to improve hygiene and sanitation. Almost 1000 children attend this school. Every teacher in the school is now integrating hygiene activities into their classroom activities.


The day of my visit was World Water Day. The entire school was celebrating the day with poster displays, songs and performances. Members of the Joyful Friends shared reasons why water is so important for life, and why it should be protected. Groups of students performed songs they had composed specifically for the day. Their proud teachers wore wide smiles during the performances: “A few years ago these students were fighting. Now they are singing their own songs and being leaders for the other students. We are growing future good citizens in this school,” one of the teachers told me.

I spent some time talking with the Grade 8 students, the elders of the Joyful Friends Club, and asked them to share their wisdom from nearly five years in the club. Each student wrote on star stickers three things they were proud of doing through Joyful Friends, and then they wrote on cloud stickers three suggestions for what the club can do in the future. We put stickers all over the classroom wall to share their thoughts. The school still faces challenges – there are nearly 1000 students and only eight toilets, water access is good but they need more places in the school for children to be able to easily wash their hands. The teachers were outside, so this work was completely owned by the students. They wrote: “Joyful Friends brought teachers and students together to live in a healthy environment,” and “I hope that someday later Joyful Friends will change the whole world by helping others to live a healthy life.” As we all stood together to read the responses I was proud of these students too – this school in West New Britain province in PNG is definitely growing the next generation of good citizens.


This article was written by Michelle Abel, Project Advisor for the Western Pacific Sanitation Marketing & Innovation Program, which is implemented by Live & Learn in PNG, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu with funding from the Australian government through the CS WASH Fund.

Practical Action for World Water Day in Fiji


Staff and volunteers from the Community-based Sanitation Market (CBSM) in Fiji decided to celebrate World Water Day in a practical way in their local community. Fiji has experienced very heavy rains in the past few months, with some communities experiencing flooding. The theme for World Water Da in 2017 concerns wastewater, and the importance of minimising wastewater, and reuse of wastewater. In response to this volunteers decided to help the families in their community.


Volunteers worked through the community to conduct a general clean up of rubbish and debris from recent heavy rainfall. Other volunteers assessed the places in the community where drainage is poor and worked with households to dig improved drainage. Other volunteers offered the external walls of their homes as a canvas for positive messages about keeping water supplies clean through keeping communities clean, and the importance of washing hands for health.


The CBSM is also involved in the national celebration of World Water Day in Fiji, with participation in a two-day forum and public celebration. News from this event will be shared on the blog soon! The support for the CBSM in Fiji is provided by Live & Learn through the Western Pacific Sanitation Marketing & Innovation project, funded by the Australian government through the Civil Society WASH Fund.