Safe sanitation for Saposa

Two partially constructed toilet shelters with corrugated iron roofs and walls painted pale pink are situated in an outdoor tropical island environment in Papua New Guinea. A beach and water can be seen in the background and some Papua New Guinean workers in high visibility vests in the foreground discussing the build.


On a small island in the Saposa Group in northern Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, the local school consistently faced challenges in providing adequate toilet facilities for students due to its island location.

To relieve themselves, students would make their way to an uninhabited island nearby to practise open defecation. This was not only unhygienic, but also unsafe, especially for female students who risked harassment or worse, and who during menstruation would have to visit the island to clean themselves or miss school. To tackle these issues. the school management built two ventilated improved pit (VIP) toilets near the classrooms. However, inexplicably, these remained unused.

After participating in WASH in Schools training with Plan International, supported by Australia through Water for Women, the teachers realised that a lack of privacy had been inhibiting students' use of the toilets. They also came to learn that the VIP toilet design was not safe in their environment, as it enabled waste to infiltrate the precious groundwater wells that the community relies on in the low-lying, high water table area.

To address these pressing issues, partitions were installed in front of the VIP toilets to provide students with privacy when going to the toilet. As part of the WASH in Schools program, lessons were also delivered on the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), which reinforced their use. The teachers soon noticed a positive change, with students no longer embarrassed to use the toilets during school.


"Prior to the training, students felt ashamed to use the two pit toilets as others could see them entering from the classrooms. However, after the training, we constructed partitions to provide privacy and hide the entrance to the toilets. We also educated our students about the importance of using toilets, and as a result, they have started using them." 

Head Teacher

A small uninhabited island close to a beach with lush vegetation covering it. It is the island that students used to go to to relieve themselves.

The small uninhabited island close to a beach is where school students used to go to to relieve themselves. (Plan International PNG / Ishmael Palipal)


With support from Plan International as part of their Water for Women project, new separate flush toilets and showers for boys and girls were next installed, which utilise a septic roto-mould system. These new facilities safely contain and treat the wastewater and also provide a safe and hygienic space for menstruating girls to manage their periods while at school.

The school’s hygiene teacher, has also observed a positive change in handwashing practices among the students. She attributes this improvement to the project’s training and awareness program for teachers, which has been integrated into their health and hygiene classes. She noted that more students are now regularly washing their hands after recess and lunch, before entering the classroom, and after using the toilets.

A student club has also been formed as part of the project and is now actively involved in creating flower beds and rubbish pits as part of the school's efforts to keep clean and enhance hygiene and sanitation.

Throughout the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and New Ireland Province, Water for Women partners with Plan International and Live and Learn Environmental Education to deliver Inclusive Climate-Resilient WASH in the Islands Region of Papua New Guinea. Through this project, partners have supported the establishment of WASH committees in 20 schools, eight healthcare facilities and 10 communities, to strengthen community mobilisation and support community empowerment and leadership in WASH decision-making and implementation. This project aims to directly benefit an estimated 8,380* people living in the two regions by the end of 2024.

November 19th is World Toilet Day and this year's theme, 'Accelerating change' reflects the urgency of sanitation action to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 - safe water and sanitation for all - and all other SDGs by 2030.

The global sanitation crisis poses a threat to nature and everyone’s health, but especially women, girls, people with disabilities, people from sexual and gender minority and other marginalised groups, who are disproportionately affected by unsafe sanitation and climate change.

Adaptation and mitigation go hand-in-hand for sanitation. Safe sanitation has the power to significantly reduce methane emissions and protect the health and well-being of people and ecosystems.

The time is now for sanitation action!


Feature photo: Construction of the new flush toilets in progress (Plan International PNG / Ishmael Palipal)


*Project targets are based on partner Civil Society Organisations (CSO) project baseline studies. Project targets are updated periodically in response to changes in context as appropriate.


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