Tshechu being the oldest and the most popular festival in Bhutan brings thousands of people together. It happens in every Dzongkhag from three to fives days every year. That gives Bhutan Toilet Org the perfect setting for our Toilet Experiment. Actually it’s more than an experiment, it’s a campaign to provide clean toilets to people and make them appreciate the experience and learn to play their role better in keeping the toilets clean.
We call it experiment because after our November 2015 Nationwide Public Toilet Cleaning campaign we gathered some myths about Bhutanese toilet habits. Therefore we wanted to see and hopefully breaks those myths.
- Would our people put in a little effort to look for toilet when they need one?
- Would people go inside the toilet when they find one?
- Would people flush if the water were available?
- Would people use toilet paper if provided free?
5.Would people wash their hands after visiting toilet if water and soap were provided?
Our first successful experiment was conducted in Paro during the Paro Tshechu. In preparation our staff and volunteers visited the event ground three days ahead of the Tshechu and in collaboration with the Dzongkhag Administration all the three toilets around the venue were cleaned thoroughly, all damages were repaired and each toilet was furnished with buckets, jugs, waste bins, soaps, room fresheners, and toilet paper (Hung right on the doors). Maps showing the location of the three toilets were placed strategically in the ground and on the routes. Direction signs were put at various points to guide people to our toilets.
Throughout the five days of Tshechu the three toilets were manned by at least five volunteers and with support from community police all corners, which were used as toilet in the past, were block.
We found out over 10,000 visited our toilets but we had to redirect hundreds to our toilets from open spaces. Old habits of going in the open reduced drastically by the third day. By word of mouth most people have heard about the availability of clean toilets.
Only about 150 rolls of toilet paper were used, which was quite less given the number of people. Most people took the toilet paper only after a verbal reminder. We had to remove only one stone.
People flushed very well in the toilets that were supplied with buckets and jugs but in the toilets that were equipped with flush tanks there were several case of un-flushed pots. Our people seemed to have issues with flush systems.
Use of waste bins inside the toilet had to be verbally advocated because despite the availability of bins we had to remove several sanitary pads from inside the toilet pots and window frames.
Washing hands after using toilet was found to be a rare habit among out people. Doma spit caused much of stains in the toilet pots, washbasins, toilet floor and walls.
We also found out the there should be more chambers for women because unlike men they need to get inside a chamber, which led to overcrowding outside women’s toilet.
One-hour water shortage on the last days in two of our toilets caused a huge problem to our team. Several toilets were blocked and they started stinking almost immediately. Next time we are going to have a backup plan because without water everything can go wrong within no time. Thank god, the officials helped us find the plumber right away to solve the issue.
We received enormous appreciation from our users. Some happy users took time to tell us how things used to be in the past. They told us that they could hardly find a space to put their feet among the open feces down the hill. They shared how the change in wind direction would bring the smell onto the tshechu ground. It was natural for everyone to fall sick after the tshechu.
But this year we changed it all. And on the other side Clean Bhutan volunteers from Paro College managed the waste so well that the ground remained clean throughout the event as if no one threw anything at all. They collected over 250 bags of waste.
Because we maintained the toilets so well the organizers didn’t have to worry about having separate toilet for VIPs. We had the honour of serving the Prime Minister, the Chairperson of National Council and the Cabinet ministers among others and impressed them equally. We have received very good feedback from tourists and their tour guides expressed their pleasure lavishly.
Dasho Dzongda and Dzongrab personally monitored out activity and expressed their appreciation and gratitude for doing them proud. Their officials made sure that our team had our meals and refreshment on time.
Our volunteers were from Yeozerling Higher Secondary School and I must thank principal Chencho Tshering for sending a group of amazing young people. In five days they have showed their endurance, patience, and positive attitude to work. They have inspired me so much that I shall keep our organization’s door open for them in the future because they are they kind of people I want to work with.
by Passang Tshering
The writer is a teacher with the Royal Academy.