SEATTLE — Overcoming open defection rates in developing countries and attenuating sanitation issues has been the vision that the World Toilet Organization has epitomized since its inception by Jack Sim in the year, 2001.
Like UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) team, the World Toilet Organization staunchly believes that sanitation and poverty share a direct link, as one in three people do not have access to adequate sanitation.
The organization has been especially prominent in alleviating the conditions in the ‘floating villages’ of Cambodia to boost school attendance for girls, as being forced to leave school for practicing poor sanitation has been an impediment to their education. The World Toilet Organization has major strongholds in India, sub-Saharan Africa, Cambodia, China and ASEAN countries.
Fortunately, I was able to represent the Borgen Project in an interview with Jeremy Khoo, the communications manager of the World Toilet Organization and Sarika Saluja, the project manager, to evaluate the impact that the organization has had in areas of need.
- How does having close affiliation with the United Nations (U.N.) help you as an organization?
The close contact we have with the U.N. has helped us establish ourselves. The World Toilet Day was especially formulated by the U.N. resolution that was tabled in Singapore. Not only has this opened up many opportunities for us, but it has helped us undertake our work and collaborate with other charities in different countries at a much larger scale.
- Can you give me a detailed account of your Sanishop Ecosystem?
The Sanishop ecosystem is a social enterprise model that is very distinct as it can be replicable in many regions. It is inculcated in various stages in the communities that we have reached out to. Firstly, it involves the recruitment of a sales agent who help us promote the use of toilets in local communities. The corresponding stage deals with the provision of training for local masons, who help construct the toilets for the local people. Lastly, a social entrepreneur provides the required, durable materials.
- How are your new initiatives in Andhra Pradesh progressing so far this year and how has this impacted the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign?
Swachh Andhra Mission is an integral part of the Swachh Bharat campaign. This is a new project and is very vital for households and follows a four by six structure where there is a bathroom and toilet. We personally appealed to the Chief Minister of the State, Chandrababa Naidu, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government. Together, we shall help fill the gaps and aid ministries in the construction of communal toilets.
- Can you highlight some of the ways you collate data and strategize initiatives?
Most of our projects and research methodologies are demand-driven. The strategic connections that we have built with various local governments and charities have helped in various collaborative efforts. These are like extra hands and limbs for us. Our close association with the Transparent Fish Fund in Cambodia is an example.
- How has your presence in Singapore helped initiate plans overseas?
Our presence in Singapore has helped us gain a lot of credibility. Moreover, we have been holding the Urgent Run for the past few years in Singapore. Our partnership with the Public Health Council, ENU, The Lee Kwan Yew school of public policy and Foreign Affairs in Singapore has also been instrumental in providing us with a foundation for our advocacy efforts.
- What are the problems you have had to deal with and solve?
We have found that getting countries to prioritize sanitation is difficult. Helping people acclimatize is also a massive feat to achieve as it would mean changing the mindsets of the people. Sometimes, the scale of our programs can potentially lead to a lack of funds.
Maintaining toilets’ conditions is imperative. The World Toilet Organization has managed to foster relationships with the people in local communities in order to maintain avid participation in addressing their needs, as well as train interested parties to maintain toilets themselves.
Improved sanitation is inextricably linked with alleviating poverty. The World Toilet Organization massive outreach has not only given thousands a renewed sense of hope, but it has also paved the way for the better understanding of a crucial social issue.
– Shivu Ekkanath