January 5, 2013

The Power of the Toilet. ~ Jayleigh Lewis

Photo: paukrus

I take my toilet for granted.

It’s not the loveliest place in the house, and I don’t look forward to having to clean it, but it’s always there when I need it.

I’m lucky. Some people don’t have a toilet but desperately need one.

It sounds like there’s a bad joke in there somewhere, but according to the web site of Toilet Twinning, a partnership between UK-based charities Cord and Tearfund,

“1 in 3 people across the world don’t have somewhere safe to go to the toilet. Bad sanitation is one of the world’s biggest killers: it hits women, children, old and sick people hardest. Every minute, three children under the age of five die because of dirty water and poor sanitation. And, right this minute, around half the people in the world have an illness caused by bad sanitation.”

When you donate £60 to Toilet Twinning, you receive a framed photo certificate of a latrine somewhere in the world (those shown on their online maps are located in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cambodia) along with that latrine’s GPS coordinates. Your donated funds go to Cord and Tearfund “to help more families gain access to decent loos, clean water and to promote good hygiene,” and you are encouraged to put the framed latrine photo in your own bathroom, thereby “twinning” your toilet and giving yourself a tangible reminder of the good you are doing.

Marketing gimmick? Yes. The Toilet Twinning web site states that latrines are twinned after they are built, so your actual donation may be going to support any number of the water and sanitation projects these charities run. However, the gimmick works. We like to put a face and a name or, in this case, GPS coordinates to those we are helping, especially if those people are halfway across the world.

I had never heard of this charity before a friend shared the web site link, but I became curious. I did some more research and discovered that there is a World Toilet Day, observed annually on November 19. Its mission is “to stimulate dialogue about sanitation and break the taboo that still surrounds this issue.” Its web site includes facts about the difficulties that occur when there is no proper sanitation, and ideas for getting involved in raising awareness (including a petition to sign).

The taboo surrounding talking about toilets is very real—I admit I am squirming even writing about this. Am I sure I shouldn’t be writing a parody instead? An article about toilets can’t be serious, right?

But there’s this:

According to both web sites, women and girls suffer most from lack of private spaces for their bodily functions, both because of the risks of exposure (sexual assault, being bitten by snakes while squatting) and because of embarrassment over not having space to clean themselves properly while they are menstruating (which actually leads to girls dropping out of school at puberty).

As a woman myself, I can imagine how difficult it would be to face this. There are more issues here than just lack of access to toilets (a woman pulling down her pants in the open is not asking to be assaulted), but this lack of access doesn’t help. I’d be a nervous wreck if I could never close the bathroom door, if I didn’t have a bathroom or a door to close. If the problem were so bad that it kept me from completing my education—well, that thought makes me mad.

I’m glad I live in a part of the world where toilets are nearly always accessible. This easy, unquestioned access makes it hard to believe there are places where it doesn’t exist. Yet, there are.

Will I twin my toilet, post a photo of an African latrine on my wall or host a “toilet sit-in” (one of the suggestions for celebrating World Toilet Day)? Probably not right now. I might still write that parody. But, I’m glad I’ve learned just a little bit more about the world today.

Here’s the Toilet Twinning informational video:

And some toilet trivia and not-so-trivia:



Jayleigh Lewis is a writer who will one day write a book. She currently works as a spiritual advisor to college students as well as a freelance editor. She has a dream that one day humans will remember the integral role ceremony has in our lives and will learn to create sacred spaces within which intention may manifest. Learn more about her dream and read more of her words on her blog.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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