On the blog

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

How do you protect your family in CAR: the "worst country in the world"?

Ericaine’s story is about a mother’s love, a wife’s resilience and a woman’s determination to make life better – not just for her family, but for everyone in the displacement camp they call home, writes Toilet Twinning CEO Lorraine Kingsley.

I met Ericaine in the middle of a displacement camp in Central African Republic. It’s considered one of the worst countries in the world to live – and Ericaine is one of CAR’s most vulnerable people.

Ericaine (left) is now keeping her community safe and healthy
It was stifling inside the large, wooden-framed tent that housed Ericaine’s family – and seven other families besides. Her tarpaulin-walled compartment housed a bed of sticks held together with string, with a flimsy rattan mat on top. It didn’t look comfortable enough to sleep on for one night – let alone three years and counting.

Above the bed, clothes hung from lines of string hung between nails in the wooden struts: a woman’s skirt, a top and a shirt, and a few items of children’s clothing so dishevelled they looked more like cleaning rags.

Next to the bed sat a tiny cabin-sized suitcase, and a few pots and pans. On the bed lay a small pile of dog-eared textbooks and exercise books.

Before Ericaine came to this camp, she told me, she had a market stall selling groundnuts, cassava and palm oil. She had her own home, enough money to feed her children and money for clothes. Her husband works away on a diamond quarry.

Life in a displacement camp in CAR is tough
Ericaine, now 39, was at home when she heard gunfire. She went outside, to find people running in all directions, terrified, desperately looking for their children and relatives.

Ericaine called to her four children, and started running. She carried her two-year-old daughter on her back: her teenage daughter Sandra carried her younger brother and Ericaine’s other son ran alongside them.

A man was gunned down in the street ahead of them. A woman told them she’d seen armed militia nearby and she pointed to where it was safe for them to go. 

Ericaine and her children ran to the bush and sheltered for two nights. She stayed awake, guarding her children. On the third day, she felt brave enough to make her way to a nearby church, where she took refuge with about 100 other families. A large tarpaulin shelter was set up for them in the church compound – and that was their home for the next eight months until a UN camp was established next-door. 

Ericaine was four weeks’ pregnant when she arrived at the church. Over the next eight months, they often heard gunfire and often hid in the bush for days at a time.

It was while they were cowering in the bush one day that Ericaine went into labour. She sent Sandra on ahead, with her siblings. She had her baby there in the bush, before help came.

A couple of women carried Ericaine back to the church, where staff looked after her, gave her sheets and clothes and medicine.

Soon after Ericaine’s baby girl, Pricille, was born, the UN camp was set up. Conditions had been terrible in the church compound: they were just as bad in the camp.

A teenager doggedly continues her education, despite everything
Sickness and diarrhoea were rife. Ericaine’s daughter Benicia, who was two at the time, spent a month in hospital with extreme fever and sickness – probably typhoid.

Without proper latrines, children went to the toilet anywhere and everywhere. The smell was awful: so were the rats and flies. Women would go to toilet in the bush – where they feared being attacked.

Ericaine and her cleaning kit
Enter the organisation we raise funds for, Tearfund. Water and Sanitation staff capped a nearby spring to provide clean water for residents in the camp, and built them ten toilet blocks and bathing blocks, along with handwashing stations. They trained a small team of residents who were charged with looking after the toilets and making sure people used them properly.

Ericaine volunteered immediately. ‘I wanted to make the camp a healthier place – not just for my family – but for the whole community,’ she says.

Ericaine and the cleaning team asked for padlocks, so they could stop children making a mess of the toilets and damaging the temporary wooden-framed structures. Mothers took responsibility for holding the keys, so the toilets would stay as clean as possible.

Gradually, conditions have improved and people are healthier. Ericaine and her team are proud they’ve been able to play a part in protecting their community.

‘We saw a big reduction in sickness and diarrhoea,’ says Ericaine. ‘Here, we live on top of each other, so everyone can hear you when you’re sick. We’d often look after children if a mother was ill.

‘Things are so much better now. I can’t thank you enough for giving us back our health.’

Ericaine’s nation is still volatile: intense violence flares up without warning. But, here at least, in Ericaine’s corner of ‘the unhappiest country in the world’*, she’s able to keep her family safe, from disease at least.

*UN poll, March 2017 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

How do we become a Toilet Twinned Town?

We bet you’ve visited 20 different toilets in the past year. Imagine how amazing it would be if they were all twinned… That’s all it takes to twin your community. It’s easier than you think!

‘Toilet Twinned Town’ (or village or city or island) is an accolade we give to communities who have come together to twin lots of loos.

Skelmersdale in Lancashire became the UK’s first Toilet Twinned Town in January 2015 when a local vicar got his congregation to donate twins to public venues across the town. 

Since then, 14 other communities have received the award – from the city of Chester to the Isle of Man – and many more are in the pipeline.

Skelmersdale becomes the first Toilet Twinned Town. Photo: Martyn Snape

If you’ve twinned your own toilet, and perhaps given a Toilet Twin as a gift, the next step might be to twin your town. Without belittling the efforts of those who’ve already won the award, we reckon it’s not as hard as you think.

We ask you to reach a certain number of twins by achieving five different goals (eg involve the local council or MP; twin a school, church or businesses; and get some media coverage). The number of twins varies, depending on the size of your community. For a Toilet Twinned Town, for example, that can be as few as 20 and for a Toilet Twinned Village it can be just five.

Ask us today for the goals you’ll need to achieve in order for your village, town, city or island to get in on the action! Remember: every toilet built is used by an average of six people – so twinning 20 toilets could provide proper sanitation for 120 people… or more.

Here are some thoughts about how you might get started…

1: Make it a team effort
Gather some like-minded people who are passionate about privies.

Dorothy Mansfield was part of a group at St Andrew’s Church in Stewton who spread the word about twinning across their Lincolnshire village. The group held ‘Community Coffee’ events each month and gradually built up a ‘wall’ of toilet twins. The church had just invested in their own toilets so wanted to help others abroad.

Our friends in the aptly named Scottish town of Bathgate took a similar approach. Their Fairtrade coffee mornings proved a great way to raise funds and inspired several local townsfolk to twin their loos too.

2: Order a Make-a-Stand kit
Set up a Toilet Twinning stall at a local event and tot up more twinnings for your town.

Burnham’s Inner Wheel group led the way in making their Buckinghamshire community a Toilet Twinned Village. They held a stall at their local donkey derby, as well as other fundraisers which have included an Indian-themed evening and a quiz night. As a result, they’ve twinned several local loos including the newly refurbished public toilets. As Inner Wheel President Beryl Senior says, ‘We have learnt a great deal about toilets!’

Burnham Inner Wheel's stall at the local Donkey Derby
3: Spread the word by stealth
Don’t wait for people to donate: give them the Toilet Twin you want them to have!

St Paul’s Church in Skelmersdale drew up what they called a ‘hit list’ of local toilets they wanted to twin – from the staff loos at their local Asda to the local soft play area. Rev Chris Spittle says, ‘It’s been great to see churches, schools, care homes, businesses, shops, pubs, community centres, our mayor and MP all agreeing to receive a toilet twin.’

4: Think big if you dare…
The world’s your oyster: twinning your town is not the end of the road.

A Churches Together team in Eastbourne have set themselves the ambitious target of twinning 1,000 local loos in 2017. Eastbourne twinners are really going for it – contracting schools to plumbers merchants to hotels – and they’re backing up these efforts with a digital strategy which includes a website and an online giving page.

Group member Stephen Brown told BBC Radio Sussex that he though Eastbourne ‘probably has more toilets per head than any other town in the UK’, not least because of all its hotels and B&Bs. ‘We have 100,000 people in Eastbourne so we think 1,000 toilets is a do-able aim,’ he says.

Twinning your town is a sure-fire way to help local people bond around a great cause and change lives forever in poor communities.

Get in touch today so we can start you off on your journey towards becoming a Toilet Twinned community.