Churches across Scotland are embracing Toilet Twinning, a quirky campaign which helps provide proper loos in some of the poorest places on the planet. In countries like Malawi, climate change is making the need for decent toilets all the more pressing…
Brighton is proud to be chief of Kalu. His village in southern Malawi is clean and his people are healthy. The community is now working together as a team to keep people safe from disease.
Just two years ago, there were no proper toilets and people relieved themselves in the bush. Diarrhoea and cholera were rife and people were often sick. Some had even died.
‘The stench in our villages and bushes was so bad we did not like living here,’ says Brighton.
It was 2015 that Toilet Twinning’s partner Eagles drew alongside the village in Chikwawa district, about 50 miles south-west of Blantyre. Villagers immediately identified poor health as a major concern but did not know what was causing it.
Eagles helped villagers organise into Community Health Clubs: members learnt about the importance of sanitation and hygiene then spread the word among neighbours. Soon, villagers were being trained to dig latrines and learning how to make sanplats – reusable concrete slabs to cover the pits.
Building materials such as wood which might have been used for latrine slabs and enclosures are in short supply due to recent drought – so the sanplats have made toilets accessible to all.
Villagers have also learnt how to purify water with chlorine and take much greater care to manage household waste and protect their environment. Kalu and many other nearby villages where Eagles are working are now almost completely free of open defecation, and sickness is subsiding.
The project’s success is even more impressive, given that recent drought has led to poor harvests and hunger, so people invest most of their energy in searching for food.
But, as Community Health Club member Margret explains, people are motivated to make change happen for themselves. ‘Before, it took months to build a toilet as people didn’t care if it was there or not,’ she says. ‘Now, people build their toilet in two days because they see the importance of having one.
‘God’s love is so great and sometimes it is shown in what look like small things, such as a toilet.’
Scotland on a roll…
This dual focus – on environmental concerns and social justice – has attracted many churches in Scotland to support the Toilet Twinning campaign.
The initiative, part of Christian development agency Tearfund, raises funds to help provide clean water, proper toilets and hygiene education in some of the poorest communities in the world. It encourages individuals and organisations to ‘twin’ their toilet with a latrine overseas and so support life-saving water and sanitation projects in communities such as Kalu.
The need globally is huge: one child dies every two minutes from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. One in three people – some 2.4bn people – still don’t have a proper toilet.
One supportive church is Davidson’s Mains Parish Church, Edinburgh, which became an Eco-Congregation in 2017. The toilets in the church café, The Sycamore Tree, are now twinned with a toilet block in a displacement camp in Central African Republic, ‘partially because of the numerous mentions CAR has on BBC quiz show Pointless’, says church member John Maclennan.
‘The ability to twin with an actual toilet block gives us a very personal connection,’ says John. ‘The issue of water conservation is also one which is never taken seriously enough. Lack of clean water and lack of proper school toilets are a major contributor to very high school drop-out rates in Africa, especially for girls.’
Some churches have gone a step further and spearheaded community-wide Toilet Twinning campaigns. In 2015, Fair Trade campaigners helped win Bathgate in West Lothian the accolade of Scotland’s first Toilet Twinned Town. And it’s not just adults who have become avid twinners: the Middle Church at St Devenick’s in Bieldside, Aberdeen, held a sponsored bike ride and sleep-out to raise hundreds of pounds for latrines overseas.
Toilet Twinning’s Scotland Fundraising Manager Elyse Kirkham says the campaign challenges us to reconsider basic things we tend to take for granted. ‘If you don’t have a toilet, you can’t keep clean or healthy,’ says Elyse. ‘So, you can’t work or tend your field: it’s a vicious circle.
‘Toilet are also about dignity, safety, inclusion and releasing potential. A latrine is such a simple construction – but it’s also a powerful symbol of hope that life can get better.’
*For more information, visit www.toilettwinning.org or email email@example.com You can twin your loo with a household latrine for £60, or with a toilet block in a school or displacement camp for £240. You will receive a certificate with a photo of your toilet twin and its GPS coordinates to display in your lavvy with pride.