Interview: Steve Abbot, public health engineer

By Coco McCabe
steve abbott
Steve Abbott is a public health engineer working for Oxfam in Haiti. Part of his job is to install latrines and washing areas in places where earthquake survivors are seeking shelter.

Coco McCabe: I’m here at the Petionville Club with Steve Abbott who is a public health engineer for Oxfam and he has a story to tell about some latrines that they were digging yesterday. Steve, where was it that you were digging those latrines?

Steve Abbott: Lamartine 54.

Coco McCabe: OK and who was helping you to dig? What was the setting there?

Steve Abbott: Well, it’s a large compound based around a church and a large number of people have settled within the church compound. And they’ve organized themselves with a committee, so we took advantage of their organization.

Coco McCabe: OK and you wanted a bunch of volunteers to help you. So tell us about the volunteers.

Steve Abbott: Well, they had signed up 36 volunteers— men and women— and for me it was just a joy. It was an amazing experience because they were so well-motivated. [There were] people digging in the pits and others cleaning up around the pits. And the children came and joined in… We were digging in river rock and… they were sorting out the river rock to carry off in wheel barrels to another site for a bathing area. It was just fantastic. I get teary when I talk about it. I really liked that job.

Coco McCabe:  That sounds like a great thing. And how many toilets are you building there?

Steve Abbott: On one side of the camp was three banks of five, so 15 toilets. Ten for women and five for men. And we’ll do the same thing on the other side of camp, plus bathing areas on both sides of the camp.

Coco McCabe: And can you just quickly tell us why it’s important to have latrines in camps like these?

Steve Abbott: Well, it doesn’t take long to discover why if you just come to a camp where there hasn’t been one for a few days. The entire terrain becomes contaminated. You couldn’t walk anywhere. So it’s desperately important at this stage to keep people healthy when they get into this kind of a space… And to give them some dignity.

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