Cleaning Bhutan one toilet at a time

Bhutan Toilet Organization (BTO) was founded in 2014 to flush out the dirty toilets in the country by advocating and acting individually with the quest to provide improved toilet facilities.

Passang Tshering, the founder of Bhutantoilet.org and a famous blogger, in the midst of bringing various issues to the forefront that required attention through his blog post, was clueless as to which organization or representative agent could cater to his complaints or for that matter, anyone’s dissatisfaction about the conditions of toilets in the country and take-up necessary action.

That was when it struck him that there should be a central body to address the toilet issues around the country. Passang’s innovative idea was given a lift when his friend Nawang told him about The World Toilet Organization from whence Passang’s beautiful journey, as he describes, started taking form.

Barely two years into functioning, the BTO today has garnered much attention and appreciation from the public, which the founder feels is due to the huge inspiration and trust bestowed upon him and his team from His Majesty even before they had done enough which magically set everything on the right path.

Thus Passang Tshering, alias ‘Chablop’ which translates to ‘Toilet Teacher’ was a title given to him by His Majesty for his commitment in keeping and advocating the importance of clean toilets around the country. “We could see that the impact has reached across the country. Every time there is an event like tshechu or melomchenmo we get calls for assistance, which shows that they are now aware of the need for toilets at public gatherings,” said the founder.

BTO has successfully established Toilet Clubs in all 10 colleges under Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) and RUB has unanimously decided to observe October 8 as University Toilet Day. The BTO regional coordinators in most of the dzongkhags have come forward willingly in trying to gather volunteers to manage the toilets during events in their locality.

BTO briefs the toilet managers of the few restrooms accessible along the highways on the importance of keeping toilets clean and are frequently inspected by the BTO staffs to monitor their progress. The organisation tries to reach the literate through social media and the locals through the regional coordinators and volunteers.

Passang recently took part in the World Toilet Summit held in Kuching, Malaysia. “It was the first time a Bhutanese representative took part in World Toilet Summit. We were their favorite because World Toilet Org was following us on Facebook and they were impressed by our work.”

Jack Sim, the founder of World Toilet Organization (WTO) said, “I’m very impressed with Passu’s passion in trying to achieve clean toilets. I’ve visited Bhutan before and the toilets in the schools were terrible. I hope Passu can create a movement to solve this issue too.” He also added that as for tourism toilets, it is an instant revenue generator with clean toilets attracting more tourists in the country.

While its fellow members at the summit were complaining about the lack of support from their government, BTO proudly talked about the support received from the government along with the blessings of His Majesty so far.

Passang however realized that the world has advanced far in terms of toilet when Bhutan is still striving to have enough toilets and struggling to maintain hygiene.

BTO recently received assistance from Junior Chamber International (JCI), a non-profit organization committed in bringing positive changes in the world, by delivering three portable toilets from Japan.

Passang left his former prestigious job as Teacher at Royal Academy, Paro to fulfill his calling which he so passionately followed. “After working for 10 years and complaining about thousand things I finally gathered the courage to come out and be part of the solution for at least one thing,” said Passang. The staff of BTO today survives on minimum salary, which comes from donation from their friends and well wishers but manages to thrive with maximum satisfaction of being one of the best changes in the society.

BTO’s disapproval of the current public toilets isn’t just bound to criticisms and issuing warnings to the toilet managers, rather they advocate through their individual actions, thus inspiring behavioral changes in the society. “We advocate in action; we provide clean toilets to people and let them appreciate it. We show them that it’s possible to keep even the busiest of public toilet clean. That’s how we advocate, more in action and less in words.”

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk, Minister of Health (MoH) said, “I’ve always encouraged and appreciated the work Passang is doing to bring in cleanliness and sanitation with regard to toilets in the country, and he knows it too. The ministry is trying to strengthen such activities by advocating on the behavioral change.” Lyonpo said that BTO members and volunteers cannot clean toilets for people every time there is an event somewhere, which is why it is important that people are well informed by advocating on the individual toilet habits. MoH and its related agency will try to collaborate with BTO in bringing positive toilet culture in the country.

However, BTO like any other non-profit organization is not void of obstacles in trying to achieve its mission. “Sustaining our efforts is a challenge, we clean a toilet and next time we go for inspection, we find that the toilet has fallen back to its original state. Most toilets are left without anyone to man them and some are managed by untrained people. No one would take responsibility for the problem,” said Passang. He plans to address such issues by training all the existing cleaners and allocating toilet managers wherever deemed necessary.

He pointed out that our people have very primitive toilet habits of cleaning themselves with anything upon their grasp- sticks, stone, cardboards, leaves, etc. which chokes the toilets, instead of using toilet paper or water as an healthy alternative. BTO is also working on trying to develop an app by mapping all toilets to make searching for them an easier job without having to hide behind the bushes to answer their nature’s call. The app shall show ‘toilets near you’ and give directions. But currently it is just at a conceptual level, with many things to be done to bring the idea to life.

Once BTO gets officially registered as a Civil Society Organization under the Civil Society Organization Authority, it hopes to take big projects and collaborate with the government in going beyond just the need for basic toilets and advocating on the importance of better toilet facilities for proper sanitation. BTO has lot of beautiful dreams in the pipeline. Some of them include: Upgrading the public toilets with modern facilities and ambience, drive for more toilets in urban centers, building toilets along the highways, making toilets girl friendly and accessible to people with disabilities, establishing a Portable Toilet Unit for public events, drive for mandatory toilet requirement in parks, labor camps, construction sites, automobile workshops, bus stops and most importantly advocating on healthy toilet habits.

“We also encourage people to send us pictures and feedback of the toilets they visit, and if we get bad feedback we immediately call the toilet managers and ask for explanation which helps in raising awareness one way or the other,” said Passang.

About Sonam Yangdon

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