Closing the toilets on World Toilet Day

Date: 13th December 2019

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School children in Geneva reflect on the global sanitation crisis

By Francesca Nava


GENEVA – Most children at an international school in Geneva would have never thought twice about going outside to relieve themselves, let alone the lack of toilets across the world. That was until 19 November (World Toilet Day) when more than 100 students at the Institut International de Lancy, a local bilingual international school, walked in to find notices on all the toilets on their floor announcing, “This toilet is closed. You’ll have to go outside, like 673 million other people.”

Disbelief. Shock. Surprise. Indignation. Many of the students in secondary,  years 11 to 13, reacted to the closure of the toilets with astonished faces.

Mrs Clausnitzer, a geography teacher, in agreement with the Headmistress, Mrs Raffy, hung up the posters on the doors as part of a global World Toilet Day campaign. The school decided to participate in the campaign to draw the attention to the fact that around half of the people in the world still have no access to a safe toilet, and 673 million still practice open defecation. These are unbelievably large numbers in 2019.

Mrs Clausnitzer recognised that these numbers were eye-opening to the students. “There is still such a big number of people in the world without basic sanitation and no access to toilets. In this day and age, it is incredible and something needs to be done. The students going without easy access to toilets for one day may hopefully help raise awareness and foster empathy,” she said.

The World Toilet Day campaign provided an opportunity to teach students about the importance of sanitation in schools all around the world.

One of the students shared a story about his grandparent’s toilet in Turkmenistan. “My grandparents don’t have a proper toilet where they live. My family offered them a nice home with a proper toilet facility, but their answer was, ‘No, we like it this way, we’d like to keep it as it is.’” He acknowledged how there are still many taboos around using toilets in some parts of the world.

Screening of the video, produced by WSSCC, to showcase those left behind in sanitation and hygiene was really interesting. It provided insights into the magnitude of the global sanitation crisis and sparked a lively conversation between the students and teachers.

“The story of girls who are unable to go to school once a month during their periods was shocking.  We just don’t really think that, today, menstrual health and hygiene could still be such an issue,” said Mrs Clausnitzer.

Students also discussed how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, especially the target on universal access to sanitation and hygiene. One of the students said, “Awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals should be a daily business,” while another emphasized that listening to stories about sanitation challenges on World Toilet Day was “not enough.”

According to UNICEF, for children under five, water and sanitation-related diseases are one of the leading causes of death. Every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases caused by poor water, and a lack of sanitation and hygiene.

“I think that choosing to celebrate World Toilet Day is such a simple thing, but it’s actually poignant because it makes you think about all the people who do not have clean, safe and private toilets available when, and where they need them,” said Ms Clausnitzer.

Participating in the World Toilet Day activities was a positive step to help students learn more about the main sanitation challenges still facing so many people in the world today.

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