Scene 3: Learning from the Past

Backstory: In 2011, the WPI WaSH project team in Langrug worked to improve a toilet and laundry facility in Section D.   They did this by implementing a foot pedal water tap encased in concrete that would reduce germs spread by unclean hands and prevent theft of parts.  They also painted parts of the facility with educational material to reduce vandalism and obscenities written at the facility and provide a learning environment for children.  For more information about this project, see the project website.

photo from 2011 WaSHUp Project

Photo from 2011 WaSHUp Project

Setting: This particular toilet facility has 10 toilets, 6 working water taps and 10 laundry basins.  Originally there was much vandalism of this facility.  It is located between Section E and Section D of Langrug. (Facility number 11 on this interactive map)


Cast of Characters: WPI Team, Alfred, anonymous community woman



As we approach the facility, our feet quicken with the excitement of recognition.  We had seen pictures of this facility featured on the WPI website advertising for its Global Projects Program.  We are thrilled to be able to see how successful this famous project was.  To our surprise, the facility is not the warm, inviting environment we were expecting.  The letters and numbers painted on the laundry basins faded and barely visible.  The only woman doing laundry is scowling at us.  We ask Alfred if we can take her picture doing laundry.  He translates in Xhosa for us, and says she does not want us to.

E Section laundry basins in 2013, two years after they were improved aesthetically

E Section laundry basins in 2013, two years after they were improved aesthetically

Alfred shows us the broken foot pedal water tap implemented in 2011

Alfred shows us the broken foot pedal water tap implemented in 2011

Alfred then shows us the foot pedal water tap that was designed by the WPI team.  It is completely broken.  The spout is broken, and the pedal has long since fallen off.  Alfred tells us that some members of the community tried to replace the foot pedal with a wrench, and that it was quickly stolen. Since the structure is encased in concrete to prevent theft, it is difficult to repair any interior components that require maintenance.  The tap is now unusable, and the centre is not the educational and inviting place that we had anticipated. We leave for the next toilet facility, trying to hide our disappointment.


It is initially discouraging to see the state of the 2011 project just two years since its implementation.  We experience a moment of fear that the results of our project will not last or be successful.  Yet we also look at the most recent facility that is now thriving due to the efforts of the 2012 team.  We cannot know whether our project will be a success.  Whatever we leave behind, regardless of how long it lasts, we are creating incremental change in the mindset of the community.  We are giving them hope of better facilities.  Though children today may not receive the educational experience intended by this particular facility, the children smiling in the famous 2011 picture did for a time, and continue to hope for better toilets and taps.


After talking to our advisors about this experience, we also realised that failure is not necessarily a problem or something to be feared.  We learn from our failures, and from the failures of the past.  These failures advance the research of the project centre.  Rather than worry about the success of our project, we will work to advance the hope of those children and of the goals of the project centre.