Footsteps Eco Lodge Consultancy

Our relationship with Gambia started with our work on the build of Footsteps Ecolodge in Gambia in 2001,

This page documents our experiences as consultants on the projects, the appropriate technologies we helped with and also shows the great people we worked with, some of whom are now members of Eekos Cooperative and working with us to create an Eekos Agency in Gambia.

Footsteps is an award winning Ecolodge on the beach side of Gunjur Village in the Gambia.

It was founded and run by David White and his father in law, Len. Len has sadly passed away, and now David runs it successfully and it has survived devastating fire, recession and Ebola affected tourist seasons to continue to trade year round helping to support the local village – Gunjur.

You can read more about the resort at the links at the bottom of this article.

Sunrise in Gambia

Sunrise

Footsteps Entrance

Footsteps Entrance

Footsteps – The Start

In 2001 we were contacted by Len and David who had seen a website we had at the time on the subject of composting toilets around the world.

They were looking at reducing their water use and going more sustainable by using large tank composting toilets shipped to Gambia, but this was looking to be expensive and they were looking for options.

We had experience with composting toilet installation and design from our work in Australia and immediately were excited by the project.

We were particularly struck by the simple, but genuine ethics of David and Len. They said that they wanted to make a Lodge that was “Good, Honest and True”.

This simple and honest message resonated with us, so we discussed what they were up to and how we might be able to help.

The main assistance we could give was through the use of composting toilets in the huts.

We first arranged for them to meet at CAT(Centre for Alternative Technology) – Wales to show them some composting toilets that were self built. This showed them that they did not have to buy expensive units for each hut, but could use the local materials in Gambia to build them.

Rather than using water based toilet systems, which simply expands a small amount of pee and poo into a large amount of very smelly water, using up water that is precious in the dry season and creating this great problem, the composting toilet creates a small amount of compost that can be used buried under trees as nutrient for them.

They look great, they rarely smell and they have been designed to be cheap and simple enough for locals to use them in their compounds. a success!

Land at start with reinforcing mesh for floor slabs.

Land at start with reinforcing mesh for floor slabs.

Partially buld hut starting the Lodge construction.

Partially buld hut starting the Lodge construction.

Composting Toilets

Once they were convinced I (Kevin) could help and was needed on site, I travelled over the Gambia for the first of 4 visits of 1 week. Each time I went I had a specific task to complete, so it was rushed at time, but interesting, creative and often a good laugh.

Our aim was to put Permaculture design into practical use. Permaculture design is about replicating natural systems to design sustainable systems. This involves designing so that the many components of a system are interconnected, each component having multiple uses and recycling of waste and problems to become solutions.

On the first visit, there was nothing on site and the composting toilet design was the main task so that the huts could be built to start the construction process.
We looked around at what was the local materials used in construction and the concrete block that was made on site was dominant. As we had used concrete blocks to make our systems in Australia, it seemed obvious to use these.
We then put together a twin chamber design that fitted into the area we had allocated for the bathroom in the hut.
The top of the toile was a flat slab and had two holes, one into each chamber. A toilet seat goes into one hole and a lid on the other. One side is used for a year and then seat and lid swapped over and the other side used for a year while the filled side matures.
The filled side decomposes to about a bucket of compost and this is removed via a back hatch and dug into a hole in the garden and a fruit tree planted above.

The “waste” from the toilets is then used to fertilise productive fruit trees mimicking a forest floor. Simple and elegant result.

With the toilet waste sorted, we then looked at how we could deal with another waste issue, greywater.

Twin chamber composting toilet. When one chamber is full, the opening is swapped.

Twin chamber composting toilet. When one chamber is full, the opening is swapped.

Bathroom shower area from the toilet showing wall across hut.

Bathroom shower area from the toilet showing wall across hut.

Footsteps – Greywater system

When you instal a composting toilet in a system, you separate out the solids from the liquids so you must set up a greywater system to deal with shower, basin, kitchen, laundry and small amounts of excess liquid from the composting toilets.

This might seem an extra burden until you realise that soaps and detergents are actually minerals and elements and can be utilised for growing plants.

In the case of each hut, it was just the shower and basin water and small amounts of liquid from the composting toilet that needed to be dealt with.

In Permaculture style, we wanted to design in as many uses as possible for each component of the system, so we thought to use the “wastewater” to feed fruit plants that would shade the huts and reduce over heating as well as produce food for the guests and the banana trees produce lots of fibrous material after harvesting that can be used for compost with the composting toilet compost end product.

Permaculture design aims to take a previous problem and make it a solutions, so this was a nice system in terms of multiple, interconnected uses.

We then designed a system that comprised of a 50cm wide trench that ran around the hut with a gap for the front door. We then lay a plastic drainage pipe in the trench with the shower, basin and toilet wastes running into the pipe. The pipe had holes for letting out the water. The pipe was covered in compost and dirt from excavation and the trench filled in and mulch over the top.

We then asked the locals to get hold of banana, pawpaw and other fruit plants and we planted these into the soil and watered in.

The idea was successful and has enabled fruit to be produced from the resort with minimal fuss and attention.

David did contact us many months after finishing the consultation to say that they fruit plants roots were now filling the holes and there has been further work by David trying different piping systems to get to a system that does not fill with roots.

Len installing the Greywater pipes in trench around a hut.

Len installing the Greywater pipes in trench around a hut.

Greywater system being planted

Greywater system being planted

Plants starting to grow in greywater area

Plants starting to grow in greywater area

Plants around hut

Plants around hut

Banana plants a month or so later in greywater zone

Banana plants a month or so later in greywater zone

Mature plants around hut

Mature plants around hut

Construction

 

The carpenters workshop

The carpenters workshop

The site during construction

The site during construction

Onsite Block Making

 

Building blocks

Building blocks

Hand mixing sand and cement for the blocks

Hand mixing sand and cement for the blocks

Blocks curing

Blocks curing

Building blocks with mould and drying in sun

Building blocks with mould and drying in sun

Freshwater Swimming Pool

 

Waterfall under construction

Waterfall under construction

Waterfall top

Waterfall top

Pool full view showing circular route for water. Waterfall and pool to left and reed bed to right.

Pool full view showing circular route for water. Waterfall and pool to left and reed bed to right.

Reedbed pond showing circulation pipes ready to be installed.

Reedbed pond showing circulation pipes ready to be installed.

Waterfall into deep pool

Waterfall into deep pool

Plastering the Restaurant - many hands....!

Plastering the Restaurant – many hands….!

Pool construction formwork