Using the toilet may not be something we talk about much in public, but that may be because we take our ability to do so for granted. For billions of people around the world, that’s just not the case. Enter Toilet Hackers, a group dedicated to confronting the sanitation crisis around the world while helping raise awareness and provide access to this basic luxury we likely assume everyone enjoys. The organization is hosting an event tonight that’s free and open to the public, where they’ll raise funds and explain just how serious this issue is for so many people in developing countries throughout the world.
“I often ask people how many people around world they think don’t have access to a toilet and I get anything from 10,000 to a million,” says Ryan Whitmore, COO of Toilet Hackers. “It’s actually 2.5 billion.”
According to the group, 1.5 million children die every year from illnesses born of contaminated water and improper sanitation facilities. They’re hoping to remedy that for 10 million people over the next 10 years.
The non-profit got its start in 2012 when they partnered with the World Bank on a sanitation hackathon that brought together designers, engineers, and thought leaders to propose solutions to the issue. As Whitmore points out, this is easier said than done.
“There’s no one solution that works everywhere. There are a lot of cultural issues that have to be addressed, the sanitation solution that works in Kenya won’t work in India,” he said. “There needs to be a lot of innovation in that space.”
Through that process the group realized that there is a big deficit in public awareness of this problem, particularly as it concerns women and girls. The fundraiser on Thursday will specifically focus on its Girls for Girls Sanitation Ambassador Program, which aims to recruit ambassadors in developing countries, educate them about the issues, and provide a framework for them to go on to explain the importance of them to their peers and communities. A sum of $250 will provide one girl in a country like Indonesia or India with the tools and curriculum necessary to get started. In developing countries around the world, 20-60 percent of girls will drop out of school after going through puberty if they don’t have safe, private bathrooms and menstrual hygiene products, Whitmore says.
“Obviously that’s something that’s inexcusable, and a detriment to families everywhere,” he says. “I often say, ‘If you educate a boy, you educate a boy. If you educate a woman, you educate a whole family.’ We want to keep women in school as long as possible.”
[Photo credit: Ed Rieker/AP]