Florida Plumber Changes Lives Around the World

Low-water toilet closes off gas and odors from pit latrines in Haiti
Florida Plumber Changes Lives Around the World
Fred Schilling installs a SaTo toilet pan in Haiti.

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Fred Schilling, president of Pipeline Plumbing & Backflow Service in Pompano, Florida, installed a toilet and instantly changed a family’s life in Haiti.

Developed by American Standard through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the SaTo toilet pan uses mechanical and water seals to close off gas and odors from pit latrines.

Schilling, a master plumber, has made five trips to the country since a 2010 earthquake devastated the region. Most of the effort has been to provide clean drinking water.

Like most plumbers, Schilling long realized the importance of his work, but developed a new level of appreciation after linking up with Plumbers Without Borders, a nonprofit organization whose main focus is showing local personnel how to do the work.

“We don’t want to just show up with a toolbox and say we’re here to fix stuff. When we’re finished with a project, we want the local people to be able to help themselves,” he says.

“What we have learned in our five years is that the need for clean, safe water and safe sanitation throughout the world is far greater than we ever imagined,” Schilling says in an interview with Engineering for Change.

“There is no better feeling than seeing someone’s life improved from the results of the skills we have as plumbers.”

Q: What are some of the common sanitation problems you’ve seen in Haiti?

A: In Haiti, it’s the lack of any sanitation disposal at all that’s the problem; 80-90 percent of the population practice open defecation.

Q: How do you decide what kind of toilets to install in a given area?

A: The biggest challenge we have in determining what type of toilet to install in Haiti and other developing countries is the lack of water. That’s why the SaTo is so ideal for not only Haiti but the rest of the developing countries throughout the world. Typical toilets that use even 1.28 gpf are just not practical and can’t ever be considered.

Q: Studies suggest people don’t always use toilets even if they’re available. How do you address that problem when you go into a community?

A: What we found working with American Standard and Jim McHale is that we need to address the cultural issues of sanitation throughout the world. We need to be sensitive to this issue and adapt, provide and educate the population in ways and means of improving sanitation that fits well with their particular culture.

Q: When did you realize your work with Plumbers Without Borders truly made a difference?

A: One of my first trips to Haiti shortly after the earthquake I held a workshop at Haiti Tec (a trade school in Port au Prince that PWB supports). Most of the population at that time was living under blue tarps. More than 40 students attended that workshop and many of them had suits and ties on. It was a sign of respect for me as a master plumber, but more importantly it made me aware of how eager they were to learn how to help themselves. I don’t think I taught much plumbing that day, but I inspired them and gave them hope. After the workshop, every student gave me a big hug and thanked me for coming. At that point, I knew that I and PWB could make a difference not only in Haiti but throughout the world.

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