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An idiot’s guide to…VIPs

Glamour. It’s not a word encountered very often here at Save the Children. In fact, to date, the most glamourous thing I’ve come across in the office has been some free GU puddings about to pass their best-before date!

Hollywood stars, red carpets and little black dresses are probably some of the last things you’d think of when imagining our responses across the globe. So, I can be forgiven for raising an eyebrow when I recently noticed the acronym ‘VIP’ popping up all over the place.

Something didn’t quite add up and so it was time for my alter-ego, Detective Kaye, to find out who these VIPs were and what exactly it was they were up to in Kenya.


Well, as you’ve probably already guessed, VIP in this instance doesn’t actually stand for Very Important Person. Instead, as my investigations soon discovered, it’s an acronym used in the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) field to denote ‘ventilated improved pit’ latrines.

However, please don’t let the potty talk stop you from reading.

Despite being far removed from the world of glamour, latrines can be pretty amazing in their own right, ultimately helping to fight disease, ensure basic human rights and meet millennium development goals.

Potty talk

As the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, once said: “Sanitation is a sensitive and unpopular subject.”

Quite frankly people just don’t like to talk about poo.

However, this can blind us to the very dramatic fact that diarrhoea kills more children globally than HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. What’s more shocking is that it’s preventable – the main causes are hands, food and water contaminated with human waste.

Latrines save lives

Sanitation and hygiene are far more important than most people realise. Where they are lacking, the effects can be devastating.

Shockingly, two million children die every year from diarrhoea. Couple this with outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, giardia, hepatitis and typhoid (all of which can be a result of poor sanitation and hygiene) and it quickly becomes apparent how building latrines can save lives.

That’s not to mention how it enhances quality of life. Improved sanitation facilities can help self respect and provide safety by offering a private, sanitary space.

11-year-old Yordanos in front of the new latrine and handwashing facility at her primary school in Ethiopia

Cheap and simple solutions

Solutions to this problem can be both cheap and simple. Using basic local materials we’re helping to build and maintain latrines, like the VIP, that suit both local communities and their environment.

In Kenya alone, our sanitation work has reached 265,404 people since April 2011.

Elsewhere, in the Sahel for example, nomadic populations are constantly on the move and as a result it’s often impossible to build latrines. Instead, we distribute ‘Peepoo bags’ which are both biodegradable and contain germ killing products once sealed.

Educating local populations about how diseases are transmitted and the importance of good hygiene is central to our work.

In our eyes there are some 2.5 billion Very Important People out there in need of improved sanitation. We’re working hard to reduce that number significantly.

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