Toilet ‘Fundis’ in Tanzania

by James Tayler


By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

Most native English speakers will recognize the word “fundi” as describing someone who is an expert within a specific field. During a recent SDI visit to Tanzania I was surprised to learn that the word originates from Swahili and its popular usage denotes anyone who has detailed knowledge and experience relating to a specific trade. For example computer, TV and cell phone fundi’s are experts in selling and maintaining their respective products. The knowledge and expertise that “fundis” possess can be acquired through informal channels and transferred to others through apprenticeships.  The word resonates with the way that SDI rituals empower community members with the knowledge and skills to implement, manage and sustain their own practical interventions and how this knowledge can be transferred throughout the SDI network. 

In Tanzania, federation members have, in the local vernacular, become toilet fundi’s. They have built, managed and maintained toilets in informal settlements such as Keko Machungwa in Dar es Salaam. Through the rituals of daily savings women have been able to access finance and toilets serving several families have been built. Technologies appropriate to the conditions of the settlement were selected and both men and women from the federation assisted in the toilets construction. Asha Muhidini, a federation member, explains “ Before our toilets were flooding, this meant that we had many problems with disease and there were often outbreaks in the settlement. Now this has been reduced. Many federation members are now toilet construction fundis and these are mostly women.”  To date 9 toilets for federation members and 6 private toilets have been built in Keko Machungwa.


Federation built toilet

A community toilet block, managed by federation members has also been constructed at the market.  A federation member informed me “The toilet at the market is benefiting everyone who does not have a toilet like visitors, stall owners and residents. We have learnt to keep the toilets clean, the mixing of disinfectants and we have learnt to manage the finances. A toilet attendant has a book where he records all the transactions.” The public toilet not only meets the sanitation needs of the community but also generates income for the federation members that manage it.


Public Toilet block next to the local market 

Not only have the federation worked to improve sanitation within Keko Machungwa but also, with the assistance of the Centre for Community Initiatives (CCI), water boreholes have been drilled and water kiosks established. Buckets of water are sold to community members at each kiosk. The system is managed by a water committee and maintained by the community. A number of kiosks are dotted across the area. The community has also formed a solid waste collection team that not only keeps the streets clean but also collects garbage from houses on a weekly basis charging a small fee for the service. The refuse is then transported to a central point where it is collected by the local municipality. Toilet construction and management, water kiosks and solid waste management exemplify the transformative ability of a community-led process that gains traction precisely because it is anchored within a local socio-economic context and not externally determined.

Without formal training or much assistance from the government the residents of Keko Machungwa have begun to manage their own water, sanitation and environment. Using the solidarity created by daily savings federation members have begun to organize and improve their own communities. In doing so they have accumulated practical knowledge and expertise in building, maintaining and managing basic services. Creating the conditions in which this type of community based knowledge and experience can emerge is critical for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it practically demonstrates that communities are more than capable of managing their own development projects. Secondly, it builds community solidarity around tangible results that improve the entire community. Thirdly, it takes place in context. Nobody understands the unique contexts, politics, history and socio-economic challenges of an area like those living there. Projects that overlook these facets of community development have the potential to fail. Fourthly, since work is contextualized and practitioners are community members deliverables can be replicated in similar conditions in the city, especially since SDI comprises of a network of the urban poor who continuously meet and exchange ideas. The sharing of ideas, methods, successes and failures in a supportive environment comprising of people who face similar challenges negates deterministic top down relationships. Projects then have the potential of going to scale across informal settlements and the city.

The onus is on local authorities and national government to create the conditions in which community-led development can gain traction and go to scale. Evicting the poor from the city is never the answer. The Tanzanian example illustrates the amazing capacity of the urban poor to manage and develop their own communities with the little resources that they have. By creating pro-poor urban planning regulations, subsidizing centrally located land for the poor, providing basic amenities, regulating the formal market to cross-subsidize for the poorest of the poor, favoring incremental in-situ upgrading over eviction and advocating projects that are creative and people-centered, the role of the state is integral in achieving inclusive cities. SDI federations work to leverage these and other resources from the state, challenging the policies and mindsets that create conditions that exclude the urban poor from the benefits of the city.