On the blog

Monday, 16 September 2013

Doing the defecation walk

You don’t imagine, when you send your child off to school in the morning, that they are going to spend the afternoon doing a ‘defecation walk’.  But that’s just what happened to pupils from Teddington’s St Mary’s and St Peter’s CE Primary School at the end of the summer term.

Doing the defecation walk.  [all photos Louise Thomas/Tearfund]

The school, which is situated opposite Tearfund’s HQ, has enthusiastically taken up the Toilet Twinning challenge and aims to twin all 43 of their loos. So Tearfund’s water and sanitation expert, Frank Greaves, thought they should be treated to some insider knowledge.   

Setting out his collection of plastic poo (sourced from a local joke shop) in Tearfund’s sunny courtyard, he invited his visitors to consider the hazards of open defecation.  Fortunately, the model faeces were not so realistic as to attract the London bluebottle brigade.  But Mr Greaves had strategically sited them next to children’s toys, a water source and some food, to explain the risks to his fascinated crowd.

Poo and play: not a good mix
Moving swiftly on, he challenged the visitors to a bit of maths while getting their hands wet.  His scheme was to allow the nine pupils to wash their hands in a variety of ways: with a standard tap, a watering can, water from a jerry can fitted with a tap, or a tippy tap.  This last is a small water-filled jerry can suspended from a branch or post, with a hole in its lid.  Lacking a branch, Mr Greaves had seconded what looked like a keyboard stand, but it did the job and added a certain something to the sense of rhythm. Tipping the can lid downwards allows a small quantity of water to come out, while letting go rights the balance and saves the remaining water.  Sophisticated models can be tipped by means of a treadle on a string, with soap on another string alongside.

Tip up that tippy tap

Naturally, this being a learning experience, the quantity of water used for each hand washing method had to be recorded on a clipboard.

And here are the results:

Water source for
hand washing
Average quantity of water
used per person
1300 ml
Watering can
500 ml
Jerry can with tap
325 ml
Tippy tap
150 ml

So the tippy tap was the clear winner, which is just as well because it has the best name.  But only a wild optimist or maybe an extreme kind of eco warrior would expect us all to rig tippy taps up in UK homes. Instead, here’s a tip: when hand washing, wet your hands, switch the tap off while you soap them and switch it on again to rinse.   It’s a tippy tappy-esque way to reduce consumption for those of us without the real thing.

But back in the sunny courtyard, Mr Greaves had a serious message to impart to the nine from over the road.  He wanted them to know that understanding why you are doing something helps you to adopt it wholeheartedly, no matter whether you are in London or Liberia.

So when Toilet Twinning gets alongside people in communities overseas where there is no proper sanitation, it invites them to question traditionally-held beliefs and customs.  There is no need for plastic poo for the defecation walks because there is plenty of the real thing.  And flies a-go-go. People are challenged to consider how much time they spend collecting water and what they could be doing instead, such as growing food or going to school.  They are introduced to the connection between a lack of decent sanitation and diarrhoea, a major cause of child mortality in our world.  And they already know how costly medicines are, but they need to gain a realistic hope of good health.

And the result is they are brought to a place where they want to put time into building latrines or improving access to clean water - for example by using water filters - which they will manage and maintain.  Knowledge is power wherever you are!

If you have connections with a school, why not ask if you can give a Toilet Twinning talk using our assembly plan and resources - including our popular poo stickers - here: www.toilettwinning.org/resources/