On the blog

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The twelve days of Christmas twinning

To get you in the festive mood, here’s our countdown to Christmas, with 12 days of Toilet Twinning (and some terrible puns)… Join us as we take an affectionate look back over some of the highlights of 2016.

On the first day of Christmas…
‘Dundee’ (which rhymes with ‘pear tree’, ish) becomes our first Scottish Toilet Twinned City and host to our first-ever Malawi twin (in the ‘cuddies’ on board RSS Discovery, no less).
On the second day of Christmas…
We absolutely ‘turtle dove’ (cockney slang for ‘love’) all our two-legged heroes who have taken on sporty challenges for us, from cycle rides to treks, runs to rowing.

On the third day of Christmas…
ROQ holds three weeks’ worth of toilet-themed craziness in their office to twin toilets, complete with a school uniform day, loo-roll dodge ball contest, bingo and maths quiz.

On the fourth day of Christmas…
Toilet-tastic Petra Crofton twins 20 loos to mark her four-tieth birthday, by setting herself fundraising challenges throughout the year, including a triathlon.
On the fifth day of Christmas…
The Guardian crossword marks World Toilet Day with a fiendishly tricky cryptic one in aid of us. Can you guess the answer to Five down? Reduce or eliminate wrinkles (8). (Answer below.)
On the sixth day of Christmas…
Christine McGibbon in Northern Ireland allays (geese a-laying… it’s close!) all fears she’s slowing down, by setting herself a target to twin six-ty toilets to mark her 60th,
On the seventh day of Christmas…
1st Maxwell Mearns Rainbows, Brownies and Guides raises more than seven hundred pounds (£750) by collecting money in specially painted ceramic ducks (distant relatives of ‘seven swans’).
On the eighth day of Christmas…
For eight weeks, the Sunday School children at Llanishen Evangelical Church collect money in uber-cute coin collectors ‘maid’ (as in a-milking) out of toilet rolls, with specially knitted hats.

On the ninth day of Christmas…

Nine-year-olds make a big splash with their twinning this year, including Emily Greenway from Nottingham who organised a ‘toilet fair’ (which included a game of ‘splat the poo’) and Ronan McGowan who ran the junior Great North Run for us.

On the tenth day of Christmas…
Lordsalummy! Ten out of ten for bravery for a little girl with encopresis who overcame her own toilet battles to raise money in her penny pot and provide a loo for a family who didn’t have one.
On the eleventh day of Christmas…
Thomas Lloyd, who’s eleven slept outside in a bivvi bag for at least one day a month, in temperatures which were not exactly piping hot. Brrrr…illiant.

On the twelfth day of Christmas…
Many, many more than twelve people at St Brendan’s Sixth Form College in Bristol join in with the pre-Christmas fun run – drumming up support for toilets!

There are many, many more twinners we could and should have mentioned here: huge thanks to you all and a very Merry Christmas!

Answer to Day 5 puzzle: Decrease

Friday, 18 November 2016

Why World Toilet Day matters for the Dorteas of this world

Every toilet twinned to celebrate World Toilet Day brings safety and dignity to a family like Dortea’s. No wonder she’s happy…

It wasn’t so very long ago that Dortea’s smile was a rare event. Every time she and her daughters needed the toilet, they had to venture out into the bush.

‘My husband would stand at the edge of the compound and wait, worrying that something bad might happen to us,’ she recalls. ‘As a mother, I was afraid every time my daughters went. They had to go in groups or be escorted by me.’

Dortea's life has changed, thanks to her loo
The dangers in this remote part of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are many. Snakes and scorpions lurk in the scrub. Dortea’s husband was bitten by a snake a few years and was in hospital for three weeks.

But it wasn’t the wildlife that posed the greatest threat to Dortea and her girls…

‘I came back from the fields one evening with my husband,’ recalls Dortea. ‘A man was waiting in the bush. He came from behind and tried to push me forwards. He used a lot of force… said he had a machete. Then my husband appeared and the man ran off.’

Mwandiga village is in South Kivu province, close to the border with Rwanda and Burundi. At the height of the civil war, armed insurgents from these countries flooded across the frontier, to join what became known as ‘Africa’s World War’. Sexual violence against women was rife across Congo – but South Kivu was a flashpoint.

‘At that time, many people were being attacked as they worked in their fields or came home in the evening,’ says Dortea. ‘Women and girls were also attacked as they went to the bush to go to the toilet, or when they walked to get water. Things were really bad.’

Mwandiga village began as a clearing hacked out of the forest that still surrounds it. Most people came here with nothing in 2008 and found nothing here. They had fled to Tanzania at the height of the civil war, and then been forcibly repatriated.

Gradually, people started building homes and cultivating land. But there was no clean water, and no sanitation. Dortea and her daughters used to have to walk to the shore of Lake Tanganyika to wash or collect water for cooking. It was a long trek, fraught with risks.

Now, despite DRC’s volatile political situation and rumours of conflict, Dortea and her neighbours in Mwandiga feel much safer. Their first line of defence is the new latrines being dug at homes across the village.

Ekyoci watches her son use their tippy tap
Tearfund, whose water and sanitation work Toilet Twinning funds, began to set up Community Health Clubs in the area in 2013. The aim was to help villagers learn and share skills in hygiene and health matters, and to encourage everyone to dig pit latrines next to their houses, for their own families and for one another.

Now Dortea and family have a toilet: they dug the pit, Tearfund provided the slab. And there’s now a borehole nearby, ending their long treks to the lake.

Residents of Mwandiga are now proudly showing off the new tippy taps they use to clean their hands and the bathing areas that they've constructed so they can have privacy when they wash themselves and their children. They now have a drying rack for their pots and pans, to keep them off the ground, and a rubbish pit to contain their waste.

‘Personal hygiene for us and our children was all new to us,’ says Ekyoci, Dortea's neighbour. ‘There used to be a lot of flies buzzing around but they have decreased. We have a lot less disease now.’

Their friend, Zaina, laughs as she talks of Health Club members’ hard sell as they encourage everyone to have a toilet.

‘There is always someone in this village talking about toilets!’ says Zaina. ‘”You must have a toilet, you must have a toilet…” That's how I knew that it was really important for my family’s health and security.

‘The best thing about having our own toilet is the privacy. We know now that we can’t be seen as we go to the toilet.’

Zaina is proud she can protect her sons' health
Dortea, Zaina and Ekyoci are all immensely proud of their toilets. Because, although they have no control over what happens at national level, they can at least be sure that they’re doing what they can to keep their families safe.

As Dortea puts it, ‘People do not need to go far from their houses any more. The instances of women being attacked are much reduced. Things are different now…’

World Toilet Day, which is on November 19 every year, exists to help more people like Dortea, Zaina and Ekyoci access proper sanitation. Their lives have been transformed by a simple pit latrine and some basic training.

Isn’t it time the same thing happened for the one-in-three people who still don’t have a toilet? Twin your toilet today and rewrite someone’s future.

Friday, 22 July 2016

How toilets are restoring dignity and hope in the DRC

Simple latrines mean safety and dignity for women like Bawili and Ebinda in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as Toilet Twinning's CEO Lorraine Kingsley discovered.

Ebinda was 14 when she was attacked. It was early evening – about 6pm – and she had gone into the bush to relieve herself. It was not yet dark so her mum, Bawili, allowed her to go out alone.

But as Ebinda crouched down, someone grabbed her neck. She doesn’t know how many of them there were: she couldn’t see them. They pushed her to the ground.

Bawili saw the bruises and scratching around Ebinda’s neck as soon as she ran in, crying. She knew instantly what had happened.

The Médecins Sans Frontières doctors who treated Ebinda observed that, if she’d had a proper toilet at home, the attack would never have happened.

Ebinda, with her mother, Bawili
Meet Bawili and Ebinda for yourself: watch our Big Relief film

But Bawili couldn’t afford to build a toilet. Her husband was shot dead during the civil war insurgency in the 1990s, and the remaining family fled as refugees to Tanzania. When the Tanzanian refugee camp was closed down in 2008, they were sent to South Kivu province, eastern Congo, to start again.

They had nothing and there was nothing for them in Mwandiga village. No water, no sanitation, no home.

They could only afford one jerry can, so Ebinda would make three journeys a day to the lake for water. It was a 90-minute round trip. Each journey put her at risk of being attacked. Each jerry can of dirty lake water put the family’s health at risk. 

A few months after they settled in Mwandiga, Ebinda was bitten by a snake as she crouched in the bush – and the hospital didn’t have any antivenom serum. She says she has felt weak ever since.

A few months after that, the brutal attack happened. Ebinda fell pregnant and left school as a result: her son is now six. She told us that she hasn’t felt truly happy since the attack. 

Bawili believes that if her husband had still been alive, he would have had the strength to build them a toilet. 
Widow Bawili provides for her family alone

And yet, this family – despite their deep poverty – spent three days with us, opened up their home to us, laughed with us and shared their story with grace and poise. 

Toilet Twinning helps fund the water and sanitation programme of Tearfund, and when Tearfund first set up Community Health Clubs in the Mwandiga area in 2012, Bawili was among the first to join. She never missed a meeting; she always arrived first.

When the group voted in their first president, Bawili was the obvious choice. She encouraged villagers to build their own toilet, one by one – even though she wasn’t able to build one herself. ‘Don’t look at me,’ she’d say. ‘I can’t afford a toilet but you must do this for your family’s health and safety.’

So the group voted unanimously to build Bawili a toilet. A year ago, members gathered materials and dug it together. Bawili brought the water each day and helped make the bricks. 

Now her toilet is her pride and joy. ‘My toilet brings us freedom, privacy and dignity as a family. We used to feel shame when we had people visit us and we didn’t have a toilet for them to use. People would shout abuse at us as we walked to the bush. I am so thankful and so happy to have a toilet. It is a big relief.’

Bawili (centre), with her family and their toilet

Now, when the Community Health Club meets under the trees each Sunday, the members open with a song they have written themselves:

‘Community, we must build a toilet 
Community, we must have a bathroom 
Community, we must wash our hands with soap or ash 
Community, we must have a rubbish pit 
To protect our health.’

During our time in Mwandiga, we would get many impromptu renditions of the song as the children crowding around us would start to sing.

DRC remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. There is no infrastructure, no rule of law. There are fears that President Joseph Kabila may call off the elections scheduled for November. If he does, civil war may follow. 

And yet, there is hope. You can see it and touch it in Mwandiga.

The community have come together, learnt together and discovered that they have the power to improve life for their families. They don’t need to wait for the government to act. They don’t sit around, hoping that another NGO might turn up to build a school, or hand out food.

As members of a Community Health Club, they can all see what happens when they take charge of their families’ futures. They all talk about feeling safer, and having less disease now. 

And they all talk about the day they built their toilet – and restored dignity to their household. 

They may not know what the future holds. But they believe it will be better than their past. Their toilets are an important first step in the right direction.

Meet Bawili and Ebinda for yourself: watch our Big Relief film 
And why not plan your do for a loo for World Toilet Day on November 19?

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Isle of Man’s alternative TT

What possesses someone to drive around the Isle of Man for hours, with a toilet perched on their car roof? Toilet Twinning champion Rosemary Clarke and our CEO Lorraine Kingsley come clean…

Manx residents were caught unawares by the scene that greeted them that sunny spring morning.

A van topped with a toilet and decorated with loo brushes, balloons and bunting wound its merry way through towns and villages across the island for a full seven hours, before coming to a halt outside the Tynwald.

Twenty-eight times over the course of the day, the Toilet Tour-ists parked up, dived out and rushed to the loo.

It was not a case of overactive bladders. Rather they were marking a world first: the Isle of Man becoming our first-ever Toilet Twinned Island.

The Toilet Tour reaches Douglas. Photo: Isle of Man Today

'It’s not often you get invited into people’s homes to look at their loos or drive around in a toilet-topped van!’ says Rosemary (pictured front right, above). ‘But it was marvellous to see the enthusiasm of all the twinners and to be able to celebrate our new status as the world’s first Toilet Twinned Island.’

Over the past five years, more than 130 toilets have been twinned across the Island, in schools, businesses, churches and offices. Our Toilet Twinned awards are given to special communities which go above and beyond to twin toilets and work together to make a difference.

The earliest recorded toilet twins on the Island go right back to January 2011. Then, Manx twinning was given fresh impetus by Rosemary Clarke and colleagues at the One World Centre in St Johns when they launched a ‘Twin your toilet’ campaign with Churches Alive in Man during One World Week in 2014.

Knockaloe Beg Farm in Peel - and guests
One World Centre itself has held various memorable events including entering a Christmas ‘lav-a-tree’ made of loo brushes in the Festival of Trees at Ronaldsway Airport in 2014.

‘Twinning a toilet is such an easy thing to do and can have such a positive impact on the health, education and economic prospects of others. We’re delighted so many people have taken up the challenge and hope the tour might inspire even more people to do so.'

Lorraine (pictured second from right, front row, above) says, ‘It was truly heart-warming to tour the island, and see so many individuals, schools, churches and business people who were genuinely thrilled to be part of the day – and part of Toilet Twinning’s mission. We received a warm welcome wherever we went – even with people who let us run into their home and take a photo of them sitting on the loo with their certificate!’ 

The Toilet Tour ended with a reception at the Legislative Buildings in Douglas hosted by Ray Harmer MHK and David Anderson MLC. Toilet twinners were invited for a celebratory cuppa and a slice of toilet-themed cake, as Lorraine presented the award to Ray Harmer.

The TT reaches Henry Bloom Noble Primary School in Douglas
Of course, becoming a Toilet Twinned Village, Town, City or Island is just the start of the next leg of the journey: several Islanders have been inspired to twin their toilets as a result of the Toilet Tour.

Manx twinners are on a roll and don’t look like stopping any time soon, if Gladys Corlett of Onchan Methodist Church is anything to go by.

‘Both my grandmothers on the Island had outside loos and I'm so thankful we don't have that today,’ says Gladys. ‘We think that everybody deserves a decent toilet. Millions of people don't have access to one – and that's totally unacceptable. If you can help in any way at all, you feel you must.’

·         Find out more about how your community can become Toilet Twinned

Thursday, 10 March 2016

A toilet is for life – or why sustainability matters

For toilet aficionados like us, there’s nothing more tragic than the sight of a tapstand in disrepair or a toilet in disuse. We’re determined not to let this happen…

Picture the scene. A line of abandoned loos, busy only with flies. Close by, a cluster of children relieve themselves in the open air.

Sadly, it happens… but only when toilet-building statistics take priority over sustainability.

It happens when a team in a 4 x 4 sweeps in, builds loos, drills a borehole perhaps, and speeds off again straight after the obligatory handover photos. A month later, the new latrines are filthy, and people go back to relieving themselves outside.

We want to ensure that every toilet or tapstand we install is still being used and properly maintained a year later… and into perpetuity.

As our water and sanitation adviser, Frank Greaves, says, ‘No one refuses a new latrine for their household.’ But, unless people really grasp the life-transforming impact of proper sanitation, clean water and simple things like handwashing with soap, projects are money down the drain. Not on our watch…

Watch our short film about sustainability

Sustainability has two key ingredients: buy-in and behaviour change. In other words, if people realise the importance of proper sanitation for themselves in the first place and are willing to invest in it, good hygiene habits are likely to stick.

One key tool our partners use to help ‘trigger’ a desire for toilets is the gloriously named ‘defecation walk’.

Essentially, they invite villagers to walk with them around the community and point out the places where they relieve themselves. Through gentle questioning, they help people see the health risks for themselves, as Frank Greaves explains.

‘It’s not about blaming or embarrassing people or telling them what to do: it’s simply about facilitating a process through which people are encouraged to reflect on their own (and their communal) sanitation behaviour: disgust, revulsion, even shock, all play a part.

‘If the process is facilitated well, a real desire for change takes root. Sometimes, pointing out the simple fact that their children play very near a place where people defecate is enough to trigger the change.’

Susan has learnt about handwashing at school
The importance of sustainability is all too clear for our Ugandan partner, North Kigezi and Kinkiizi Dioceses (NKKD), which works in some of the poorest villages in the impoverished south-west of the country.

Previous state-led sanitation projects in Uganda have failed: latrines quickly fell into disuse because there was no local ownership. Child mortality linked to poor sanitation remains high.

So NKKD has refocused its work to make sustainability a priority – by placing a strong emphasis on local buy-in.

Its approach is to identify families who are particularly receptive to their sanitation and hygiene messages, and to equip them to lead by example. So their houses become ‘demonstration homes’ with a proper latrine, clothes lines, dish-drying rack, handwashing tippy tap and bins – so that these families can model good hygiene to their neighbours.

In one village, Kabirago, the number of toilets has almost doubled since NKKD began work there. Now three-quarters of households have their own toilet.

It also harnesses ‘pester power’: installing toilets and tippy-taps in school and teaching children about handwashing with soap so they will nag their parents to have the same facilities at home. 

Marius (right) with the headteacher of a school
where NKKD has built toilets
Creating a sense of ownership is vital if the community goes on to install shared facilities since these too must be properly maintained. So in any community project -– whether it’s a gravity flow pipeline or a school toilet block – NKKD insists that even the poorest of local communities contribute 15 per cent of the cost, either in cash or labour.

As NKKD Sustainability Mobiliser Marius Katanguka says: ‘Before, there would be breakages and nobody would be able to take care of them or nobody would be concerned.’

NKKD also works hard to ensure behaviour change is long term. In some communities it has encouraged people to draw up local by-laws relating to sanitation and it makes regular return visits to families to help embed good habits.

And all this matters of course because, as Marius says, it’s the cumulative benefits of long-term use of proper sanitation and clean water that give families the best chance of breaking out of poverty.

‘In the long term, [people’s] economic status [will improve] because the money that used to be spent in hospital is going to be saved to improve on their livelihoods,’ says Marius.