"Toilet teacher" and others shine a light on sanitation and hygiene at Durban summit

Last updated: Fri, 12/07/2012 - 10:18

This week, WSSCC is contributing to a number of sessions at the World Toilet Summit 2012, being held this week in Durban, South Africa. On the opening day, 4 December, Advocacy and Communications Programme Manager Amanda Marlin, together with sector expert Piers Cross, discussed how to go from the status quo to sanitation for all Africans.

On the second day, Ms. Marlin presented “Closing the Gap: Equity and Inclusion in Sanitation and Hygiene” and WSSCC and Unilever co-hosted the session “African Sanitation Challenges.” WSSCC’s field-level experience was articulated through the sharing of Global Sanitation Fund experiences in Madagascar and Malawi. Under the banner “Identifying Ways to Address the Main Sanitation Challenges:  How to Work at Scale, How to Achieve Sustainability,” Dr. Rija Lalanirina Fanomeza from MCDI Madagascar and Ulemu Chiluzi, Plan Malawi, talked about how their programmes are succeeding in ending open defecation and helping large numbers of people to move, sustainably, up the sanitation ladder.

Finally, WSSCC’s Advocacy and Communications Officer Saskia Castelein shared WSSCC’s recent findings on menstrual hygiene management, gathered over six weeks during the recent Nirmal Bharat Yatra. 

According to Ms. Marlin, the lessons about sanitation and hygiene being shared, together with the energy and excitement of the participants, has made the Summit a success. She describes one such exciting person she has met:

Ms. Natalia Margaret Filles "The World Toilet Summit (WTS) is a great place to meet people. One of my favourite conversations has been with Ms. Natalia Margaret Filles – affectionately known by her students as 'the Toilet Teacher.' Natalia won that nickname, and her scholarship to attend WTS, thanks to her efforts to clean up the toilet blocks at her school, Astra Primary School in South Africa. Natalia was studying for a Bachelor of Education. Her professor set each of the course participants an assignment: 'go back to your school and make a difference.' Natalia wasn’t sure what would be the priority, so she polled her Grade 6 class, and they came back with a unanimous response 'the toilets, teacher, the toilets!

So, that became Natalia’s challenge. She sent letters to parents who responded in cash or kind. Those who were plumbers, carpenters or painters gave their time. Others sent cash. The toilets were renovated and cleaned and are now the pride of the pupils. Indeed, Natalia told me that they are now nicer than the teachers’ toilets, and the children tease the teachers when they sometimes choose to use the students’ facilities. 

The project has been a great awareness-raiser about the importance of good sanitation. Local papers have written about it. The school celebrates World Toilet Day on November 19 each year with a one minute long 'big squat.'And the involvement of the whole school community – students, teachers and parents – has meant that a much wider group than just the students has heard about the benefits of good sanitation. 

Natalia said that whenever there is a problem to do with the toilets, or when the children from any  grade have a question about sanitation, they come to her. She smiles when she says 'they call me the toilet teacher.'
The issue of leadership has come up many times in the course of the discussions at WTS. The need for political leadership, the fact that natural leaders emerge whenever communities are involved in discussions about their sanitation. It was a great pleasure to meet a real-life leader – someone who’s made a difference to her world."