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The Seeker: Humanure Kenya Founder Talks Shit During Charlotte Visit

Nonprofit provides compost toilets to homes and schools in Kenya

Katie Grant looks ahead and smiles
Katie Grant, The Seeker. (Photo by Lauren Mazzella)

You’ve heard of manure, right? Like manure from farm animals, human waste is high in nutrients and organic matter. Instead of letting it go to waste (*cough*), an organization called Humanure Kenya is putting it to good use.

Humanure Kenya is a nonprofit that provides skills and training to locals and is dedicated to teaching ecological sanitation and composting. Their mission states that healthy people living in healthy houses make healthy communities. 

To support this vision of health, Samsom Muhalia, CEO of Humanure Kenya and an African Yoga Project Empowerment Coach, has been traveling the United States on a fundraising tour, teaching yoga in return for donations to his mission. Charlotte’s Legion Brewing was one of his stops. 

Samson graciously taught yoga three days in a row. Each class cost $10, which included a 16-ounce draft beer, and 100% of the proceeds went to Humanure Kenya. I attended two classes and got to know him while we was in town. 

After yoga, equipped with beers and many questions, each group of yogis sat around Samson to learn more about Humanure and his mission. Together, we learned that Humanure Kenya provides compost toilets to homes and schools in Kenya, where many people do not have access to basic toilets or hygiene. The product of the compost toilets is later used to fertilize fields for healthy crops. The organization also teaches proper hygienic practices and health education.

We also learned that many people in Kenya suffer from easily preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery. These illnesses can be stopped at the household level by introducing home toilets and health education on good sanitation practices. Humanure Kenya is working to meet the needs of communities and overcome these issues by building compost toilets in people’s homes and schools.

Another part of Humanure Kenya’s mission is to create job opportunities for local youths by equipping them with skills like carpentry and educating communities in rural areas and schools in the 47 counties in Kenya. Samson and his team view their work as successful when Humanure system projects transform lives and promote positive and lasting social, economic and spiritual change within communities. 

Now, let’s rewind a minute before we get ahead of ourselves. What is a humanure system? 

Humanure (urine and fecal matter) is recycled for agricultural purposes by thermophilic composting, or heat-producing composting, eliminating human pathogens. Three essential components are required for such a system to operate successfully: the toilet, the carbon-based cover materials and the compost bins. 

Samson explained that humanure toilets are inexpensive, simple in design and easy to build. Part of what makes this system so accessible is a compost toilet does not need water, plumbing, pipes, vents, drains, electricity or urine separation. They do not produce waste, only reduce environmental and water pollution from untreated fecal materials.

Additionally, the system can be adapted based on the availability of locally sourced materials. The carbon-based cover materials range from sawdust, dry leaves, grass, etc. This is an essential step in reducing odor and providing carbon-rich material to aid the composting process.

Once the toilet container is full, the contents are emptied into an outdoor compost pile. We learned it’s best to spread a base of leaves, straw or other composting materials on the bottom before adding humanure to ensure proper drainage. Then, each time a batch of humanure is added, the mix should be covered again with more composting materials.

Once the compost bin is full, it should sit for at least one year for the final stages of decomposition to take place and start a new pile in the meantime. After the first pile has “matured,” it can be used in your garden beds like any other compost product. Simple, right?

While combing Samson’s Facebook page, I couldn’t help but notice a photo of him holding The Humanure Handbook. He explained it was published by a man named Joseph Jenkins in Pennsylvania who fertilized his garden with composted human waste for nearly 40 years. In my post-yoga class reading, I learned The Humanure Handbook was an accidental literary phenomenon.

Jenkins began writing the book as a master’s thesis while attending Slippery Rock University’s Master of Science in Sustainable Systems program in Pennsylvania in the early ’90s. Now in its fourth edition, the book has been translated into more than 12 languages, if you are interested in reading about this shitty subject matter in your downtime. 

But the toilet talk doesn’t end with yoga. As Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” I have volunteered to join Samson in Kenya to assemble these much-needed compost toilets for schools, hopefully within the following year.

I look forward to updating you on my worldly travels.

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