Pathfinders Cookbook: How to build a latrine in Haiti


By Liz Moody


  • wood
  • nails (ungalvanized will do if that is all you can find)
  • rebar
  • corrugated zinc
  • concrete
  • tools (including, but not limited to, saws, machetes, hammers, and measuring tape)

Step 1: Go to Haiti. For authentic flavor, achieve this in Pathfinders style. Spend the better part of a day waiting in a Dominican border town for your contact to arrive. When she appears, throw yourself into the truck among the supplies (see list above). Cross the border through backwoods channels, pleasantly greeting all possible officials you encounter along the way. None of them are officials. Arrive at the halfway point to find out that your second ride has left without you. Wait some more. When the truck arrives at 3:15 am, cram your supplies into the back, and hang on (no sitting room in this one)! Arrive at the mason’s house and learn that your house is actually located elsewhere. Put on your pack and head over: down the mountain, into the valley, and up the next mountain. Whew. Now the work begins!

Step 2: Find a hole! Hopefully the family has already dug one in anticipation of your arrival.

Pathfinders Project: Building latrines in Haiti

Step 3: Cover the hole with several layers of wood, chopped by machete from the surrounding trees. Take some measurements. Disregard said measurements in favor of the eyeball method espoused by your local helpers. Trust that everything will work out fine (it does).

Pathfinders Project: Building latrines in Haiti

Step 4: Nail the wood together. Be careful; the ungalvanized nails may be reluctant to cooperate. Cover with a layer of rebar, painstakingly tied together by hand to prevent it from rolling.

Pathfinders Project: Building latrines in Haiti

Step 5: Dig holes for posts, which will provide the skeleton of the little shelter. Place the posts.

Pathfinders Project: Building latrines in Haiti

Step 6: Pour the concrete (don’t fret, you can leave this part in the capable hands of the local mason).

Step 7: Continue adding boards to the framework of the latrine.

Pathfinders Project: Building latrines in Haiti

Step 8: Now it needs some walls. Nail on some corrugated zinc. There is no way to do this quietly. Accept that you will startle local wildlife and cause a ringing in your ears.

Step 9: A door isn’t a bad idea. Saw some more wood, nail it into a frame, and add corrugated zinc to taste.

Pathfinders Project: Building latrines in Haiti

Step 10: Admire the finished project. You’ve helped stop the spread of waterborne diseases and made a huge difference in the lives of a family and a community.

Pathfinders Project: Building latrines in Haiti

It’s not too late to support the Pathfinders’ latrine-building work in Haiti—click here to donate!

Credit to Pathfinder Wendy Webber for firsthand details and photographs.