Speak out to break taboos: Jack Sim

If you have fun and purpose in life, there will be boundless energy to collaborate with others and you will find time to make the world a better place to live in with proper sanitation and hygiene facilities, said Jack Sim, founder, World Toilet Organisation (WTO). Addressing around 100 Rotarians world over through a virtual meet of RC Madras, RID 3232, as guest speaker, Mr Toilet, as he is fondly called, said, “Since 2001 we have conducted 19 World Toilet Summits, broke social taboos on toilets, transformed mindsets and helped 2.4 billion people gain access to sanitation and hygiene facilities.”

Jack Sim, founder, World Toilet Organisation
Jack Sim, founder, World Toilet Organisation

The problem with the world is that we are obsessed with this ‘masculine approach’ as we all want to be leaders, rather than forge collaborations. “We should have a feminine approach just like a mother caring for her family. Mother Nature facilitates the entire ecosystem of forests with its flora and fauna in which everyone is an active stakeholder. There are no winners or losers here, and there is perfect harmony in the world,” explained Jack. So, let us first depart from the winners versus losers mentality to forge ‘effective partnerships’ to end poverty in the world, he said.

A litany of taboos

Rotary founder Paul Harris set up a public toilet as the NGO’s maiden project in Chicago in 1905 and is one of the heroes of sanitation. “In the last 20 years, I have to adopt unorthodox methods to communicate and break social taboos associated with toilets. One such is humour, for if you make people laugh, they will be drawn to you and listen to what you say.” Listing out the taboos that rankled mankind over the centuries — slavery, apartheid, leprosy, women’s liberation, sex revolution, LGBT, #MeToo Movement, Black Lives Matter and toilets — Jack says, “every time you break a long-held taboo, good things happen and we progress.” But we should break the shackles and talk about these social issues.

His initiative, WTO, has to lobby hard with the top CEOs, government bodies and the UN General Assembly for adopting the World Toilet Day which falls on Nov 19. Finally, the UNGA declared in 2013 that Toilet Day will be observed as an UN official day with 193 countries supporting the motion. Praising the efforts of PM Narendra Modi in the Swachh Bharat movement, Jack said six World Toilet Colleges across India have trained 7,500 toilet cleaners on the efficient use of modern sewage equipment over the last four years. “WTO is purely a volunteer-driven organisation. There is scientific method in our madness.”

In a recorded video, PDG Ron Denham, chairman emeritus, WASHRAG, said lack of sanitation and hygiene has led to an average GDP loss of 6 per cent in India so far and attention on this is “very critical for the country’s growth.” At present, 230 million lack access to proper sanitation; 38 million suffer from waterborne and related diseases; and 140,000 children die annually in India, while 300 million women don’t have access to toilets. In the last 4–5 years, 105 million toilets were constructed in India, and 72 per cent of population was given access to sanitation. “But 55 per cent who have got access to toilets, still practise open defecation and infections are rampant due to poor handwashing habits,” said Denham.

Every time you break a long-held taboo, good things happen and we progress.

Rotary clubs in India have taken up 150,000 WASH projects, implemented 500 WinS programmes and built over 500 community toilets, he noted. “Creating social awareness, ushering in behaviour change, motivating communities to adopt best sanitation practices, capacity building through training people, and offering financial incentives are challenges for Rotary in India,” he explained.


WASH fund

RID 3232 WASHRAG ambassador and past president S N Srikanth announced that the club as a token gesture is donating $1,000 to TRF for increasing its spend on WASH projects across the world. “In the coming years, we will urge more clubs and Rotarians to contribute to TRF so that the Foundation increases its annual grants for sanitation projects from the present $20 million to $100 million,” he said.

A two-day exhibition was held in April as part of Toilet Festival where the latest toilet technologies were displayed. The club, along with two NGOs, is collaborating with the Chennai Corporation to launch a Kukkoos App which has mapped all public toilets in the city. Residents can report the condition of their nearest toilets through this App.

The club is emphasising the scaling up of sanitation projects by involving the government. The thrust will be on behaviour change and sustainability of toilet projects. A sanitation professional will be sponsored by the club for a PG programme at the Delft University, the Netherlands, to create a few qualified people in this focus area.The success in making 11 villages open defecation free through a behaviour change programme for the communities “has drawn the attention of RI and is the subject of a case study at IIM-Ahmedabad,” he said.

“We have built 1,600 community toilets and are offering sustainable sanitation facilities wherever we can by tying up with stakeholders,” said Mohan Raman, club president.

Bas Hendriksen from RC s-Gravenhage-Noord, the Netherlands, RID 1600, said his club is offering scholarship worth $50,000 to study a one-year masters course on water and sanitation at the Delft University. President-elect Jayshree Sridhar, president-nominee Ravi Sundaresan and past-president N K Gopinath addressed the meeting.

TRF Trustee PDG Geeta Manek from Kenya; PRID Bob Scott, US; PDGs Ganesh Subramanyam, RC Merthyr Tydfil, Wales; Mukesh Malhotra, RC Houston, London; and Rotarians from the US, UK, Belgium, Denmark, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Guatemala and Sri Lanka participated in the virtual meet.

WHO, UNICEF study (2019–20)

  • Over half of global population, or 4.2 billion people, lack access to safe sanitation
  • At least 2 billion people don’t have safe drinking water
  • Around 297,000 children under 5 — more than 800 every day — die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene or unsafe drinking water
  • Many girls miss out on education because they have no access to clean and safe toilets
  • One of UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) is to have universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation and end of open defecation by 2030
  • For every $1 invested in basic sanitation, the return is $2.5. In rural areas, the average return is more than $5 including saved medical costs and increased productivity, cites a Hutton et al 2015 study.

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