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MSD students and the Bower Studio return to Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, the issue of sanitation remains prevalent. It is estimated that there are still 154,000 households (860,000 people and 13% of the population) who do not have access to any form of sanitation in rural areas.

Master of Architecture students Georgia Hall and David Gerber travelled with Dr. David O’Brien to the Sipaia community on 14 - 21 July 2017 as part of the Bower Studio’s second visit to the community in the past 12 months.

The Melbourne School of Design’s Bower Studio partners with remote communities in Australia and the Pacific to collaboratively develop solutions which solve pressing issues in the community and simultaneously develop the skills and expertise of local people.

A dozen students helped build four composting toilets in 2012 and 2016 over ten days, the visit this year was described by Georgia as “more of a mental challenge”.

“Last year was a physical effort where we would spend 8 hours a day in the searing heat, whereas this year we focused on evaluating and monitoring the use of the toilets,” Georgia added “we conducted over 300 surveys and interviews with families and individuals in the community about their sanitation habits in Tok Posin (the local language) and English.”

Without Georgia and David’s previous experience working with the people in the village, it would have been impossible to conduct these interviews and evaluate what the next steps should be.

“Constructive community consultation is impossible without a personal connection with the people and community,” Dr O’Brien said.

“Having a deeper understanding of the culture and people was crucial in ensuring we were able to navigate the cultural sensitivities and generate effective results. The fact that 92% of the community responded reinforces the important relationship the Bower Studio has established with Sipaia.”

Now that five composting toilets have been built at Sipaia 57% of the households have access to better sanitation while 43% remain dependant on pit toilets or the ocean. One composting toilet alone was used by 24 households.

A composting toilet built by Sipaia and the Bower Studio

98 surveys and interviews were also conducted at the neighbouring Bumbu community to compare communities with and without composting toilets.

Now Bower Studio has trained a local work team at Sipaia who have taken the lead organisational and building role.

“A key indicator of success for us in our projects is developing the community’s skills and capacity to build and repair. I’m really proud of the way the students engage with the community and the way the project develops local expertise and confidence to tackle more toilet construction once Bower leaves.”

The community workteam building the new composting toilet

In response to the need of an additional composting toilet, a local work-team has come together with Dr. O’Brien helping to train them to source materials locally and use specific tools. After the visit, the community expects to build the composting toilet themselves and locals such as Korul Yaling expressed gratitude to the Bower Studio and the University of Melbourne. 

"I am happy to work with you guys, students of the University of Melbourne. I learned many more good things about building the toilet and we learned many new things about how to use the power tools. We have experience, and now we can build the toilet ourselves."

All photos and quotes of the Sipaia community have been taken and used with consent given from the community. 

For more information on the Bower Studio, please visit the Bower Studio website.