Twin Your Toilet for World Toilet Day

19 November 2013 | By Cause4 staff

Today is World Toilet Day. But it has not been designated as such by the UN as an opportunity for primary school-esque humour, rather to raise awareness of the shocking truth that across the world 2.5 billion people do not have access to a clean, hygienic toilet; a fact that contributes to one in five child deaths worldwide.

Fortunately there are a number of charities working to counter this issue and one of the most innovative that we have encountered in the UK is the Toilet Twinning initiative run by two charities, Cord and Tearfund. To highlight World Toilet Day we have interviewed Lorraine Kingsley CEO of Toilet Twinning to find out more about what the problems are and how the campaign is working to address them.

How did the partnership between Cord and Tear Fund to launch Toilet Twinning come about?

Toilet Twinning was set up in 2009 by UK charity Cord, in response to the scandalous figures showing that over 2.6 billion people didn’t have anywhere safe, clean and hygienic to go to the loo. It was the brainchild of a staff member at Cord who came up with the idea while developing a church resource pack about Cord’s water and sanitation work in Burundi. At the end of the church promotion, the idea was proving so popular that Cord wanted to join forces with another international development agency to extend the reach of the project. Tearfund was selected because it has a multi-million pound water and sanitation programme being delivered by grassroots organisations in more than 20 countries.

How do I twin my toilet?

For a £60 donation, anyone can help flush away poverty by twinning a toilet at home, work or school with a latrine in various countries overseas. Each toilet twinned is awarded a Toilet Twinning certificate, with a photo of its twin latrine and exact GPS coordinates. We also offer twinnings with school latrine blocks for £240, or for more modest pockets there’s a gift boxed loo roll for £8.

How do you choose the communities where you build your toilets?

Toilet Twinning raises funds for Cord and Tearfund to spend on their water and sanitation programmes, so supporters can be assured that there is a huge wealth of professionalism and expertise in the way the money is used. What’s more, we work through local partners who have longstanding relationships with the communities they work in, so there is profound grass roots knowledge of where the need is greatest.

What is the biggest challenge you face?

Our biggest challenge is a really good one - Toilet Twinning is snowballing: between its launch in 2009 and World Toilet Day in November 2012 we twinned 10,000 loos. That figure had shot up by half as much again by July 2013! Ensuring we are able to maintain this level of growth will be a challenge, but it’s the best one to have!

Aside from building toilets and latrines, what else do you do to help people in the developing world to access safe sanitation, clean water and hygiene education?

Toilet Twinning’s work is not so much about building latrines for people as about empowering them to understand the need for decent sanitation and clean water, and enabling them, with the help and guidance of our local partners, to go on to construct and maintain their own facilities.

That’s a far better and more sustainable lifesaver than rolling up with a lorry load of ready-made latrines - latrines whose foundations might get undermined in the next rainy season, or which quickly become full or need repairs. Or the community might be somewhat bewildered by the plastic portable modules in their midst! Without any real sense of ownership, people can easily feel disempowered or their dignity may be impaired. Old habits, such as using the river or the bush for defecation, might die hard.

So changing attitudes and behaviour are key, and will last longer than dumping equipment on an unsuspecting community, that’s why Toilet Twinning’s partners work alongside people, finding out what they want and inspiring them to action. It’s also not just about having facilities, it’s also about gaining knowledge - the knowledge to understand why good hygiene is vital for health - and skills to pass on the learning.

What do you hope to have achieved by World Toilet Day next year?

Naturally we would like to see every toilet in the UK twinned! That might take a bit more than one year of course, but we’ve got big plans and we are always encouraged by the level of support and interest Toilet Twinning receives.

We receive huge support from schools and youth groups, and younger children in particular are fascinated by anything related to toilets. Learning about water and sanitation also fits in well with the school curriculum. Increasingly we are receiving support from businesses and individuals too. But the need remains massive – 40% of the world's population still don’t have anywhere safe, clean and hygienic to go to the loo so there’s much more we need to do in terms of action and also drawing attention to the scale of the problem.

For more information or to twin your toilet, visit www.toilettwinning.org. Thank you for your support!

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