At the World Toilet Summit 2016 in Malaysia members of toilet associations of different countries took to stage and shared great stories about their works but one tragic twist in all their stories was the lack of support from the leadership of their countries. They were yet to convince their leaders on the significance of what they were doing. They were fighting to get their leaders’ attention to their cause.
I was to speak in the afternoon of the second day of the summit. By then people had heard enough toilet stories to have any more appetite. Attending the summit for the first time that was the best slot I could get. But I have enjoyed so much attention in two days just by being in gho. Even before I went to stage hundreds of people took pictures of me or with me. They called me Mr. Bhutan Toilet.
When I finally went to stage that lethargic afternoon I could see that I had all eyes because of my dress. I soon projected the photograph of His Majesty and me on the giant screens across the hall and told them stories of how I have the blessing of my king on what I do. When I told them that His Majesty the King gave me the title ‘Chaplop’- The Toilet Teacher, I heard the loudest round of applause in that hall. That made me the only country representative at the summit who, with a little guilt of having to contradict with the rest in the house, spoke proudly about having the support of the King of his country.
When elsewhere in the world Civil Society Organizations fight for benefactions from their countries’ leadership here in Bhutan our leadership inspires people to take up social works. In 2015, during the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition in Paro His Majesty said, “Where we live must be clean, safe, organized and beautiful, for national pride, national integrity, and for our bright future. This too is Nation building.”
I was then experimenting with Bhutan Toilet Org as an online campaign but that royal message seemed to me like a personal command. I immediately began working on making toilets across the country ‘clean, safe, organized and beautiful’ and that was the beginning of this long journey I have started.
Who wouldn’t desire for an audience with His Majesty the King, but when His Majesty summoned me during Paro Tshechu I was least expecting it. I knew I didn’t deserve it yet. What I didn’t know was I was summoned to be blessed, to be inspired and to be guided for the long journey ahead of me.
I still have vivid memory of that auspicious moment. Dasho Zimpon made me wait on the bridge. I was the only person kept on the bridge and the next person I would see was His Majesty. I could see thousands of people on both ends of the bridge waiting to get a glimpse of His Majesty. I was frozen. I didn’t move an inch even though no one was watching.
Then came the moment, I couldn’t look up directly but I could make out from the radiance that His Majesty had come. I bowed down to pay my respect and froze back to stillness. His Majesty right away congratulated me on my team’s work during the Tshechu and told me to walk alongside him across the bridge.
I had crossed that bridge thousand times in my life but even in my most beautiful dream I haven’t seen myself walking with His Majesty the King and talking about the work I am so passionate about. I shared Bhutan Toilet Org’s Roadmap and the challenges faced in maintaining public toilets. His Majesty talked about the importance of behavioural change in making our efforts sustainable. The bridge seemed so short that day, at the other end of the bridge His Majesty stopped and shared stories of toilet issues in our country and how thing are in other countries. He blessed me with his guidance and assurance of royal support henceforth. Everything seemed so possible suddenly.
To make this priceless moment live with me forever His Majesty granted a Kupar with me with the permission to share it on social media. It was as if he knew I would need this to remain motivated each day and to influence people around me.
I couldn’t quite convince my mother to appreciate my new work after I left teaching until I sent her my picture with His Majesty. It worked magic with her. She finally began to accept and appreciate my work.
Few months later I received Royal Command to participate in the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition. It was only during the last Flower Exhibition that I was inspired work with toilets and now I was going to setup toilets at the event, it was too good to be true. It was granting the biggest platform to showcase ourselves and we took it up with challenge and with great pride.
During the closing ceremony of the exhibition His Majesty made special mention of Clean Bhutan, and Bhutan Toilet Org and it was then that I was granted the title ‘Chablop’. It suddenly made me feel like I was doing a prestigious job. Thereon, it made us glorify the act of cleaning toilets; it felt like an art. We never had a problem looking for volunteers to help us.
Just last month, during the Royal Highland Festival in Laya, I had the fortune of meeting His Majesty again and this time it was right next to the toilets we set up. The first question came as a compliment to our team, “How do you manage to keep the toilet odorless?” We were surprised that His Majesty knew about our knockdown toilets that were travelling places during events. For the King to know about every little effort you make was the highest reward we could ever dream of.
Later at the end of festival, during Civil Society Organizations’ audience with His Majesty I knew how he has been instrumental in the formation of every organization and how they were guided by his vision. It was like we were gifted fragments of his dream with his blessings.
By Passang Tshering
The writer is the founder of the Bhutan Toilets Org and is a blogger