Over the course of my career in TV news and nonprofit work, I’ve had the opportunity to travel abroad and meet those who struggle against incredible odds every day.
I’ve met heroic people who contend with war, poverty, social injustice and lack of essential medical care.
But another global issue calls for attention.
In the United States even the word “toilet” is an indelicate subject. Americans avoid it by discreetly referring to “the restroom,” “the ladies or men’s room,” or “facilities.”
But for 2.5 billion people packed into the poorest places on Earth, “restrooms” are train tracks, gutters, waterways or patches of grass. There is nothing restful about it.
According to the United Nations, poor sanitation, poor hygiene and lack of clean water kill 1.5 million children each year. Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of childhood death worldwide.
During rainy seasons, sewage washes into community wells sickening entire families.
Women and girls in villages and slums often have no choice but to take a dangerous walk into the night where they risk sexual assault and murder.
At Unbound, a humanitarian organization based in Kansas City, Kan., we take a holistic approach to extreme poverty and all of the challenges that come with it, including sanitation. While governments invest in large scale solutions, Unbound does its part, working with individual families. The results are encouraging.
For instance, in our Uganda project, members of a self-help group identify families in the community lacking proper sanitation. Unbound offers financial aid for supplies, and then enlists parents to build latrines for each other. Kind of like the old fashioned “barn raising.” Mariza, a mother of four children who recently got a new latrine, said gratefully, “We can even use it at daytime.” Think about it. A mom is happy and grateful her kids don’t have to wait until dark to do something we take for granted.
The United Nations has designated today, Nov. 19, as World Toilet Day.
I am observing the day in India, which has the biggest open defecation problem in the world (yes that is a real term; Twitter has a hash tag for it).
I’ll be telling stories about the challenges Unbound families face when it comes to sanitation and explaining how we can empower families to make life better for themselves. It is not expensive. The cost to build a basic latrine in India is estimated to be just a little under $25.
You can make a difference by donating to the Unbound health fund, the water organization of your choice, or spreading awareness through social media. Please take this opportunity to improve global health in a simple but important way.
My travels have made me grateful for so many things in life. I’ve learned that I am rich, at least in toilets. I have three.
It only seems fair that everyone should have the same chance for good health, dignity and privacy.
With basic sanitation lives will be saved.
Elizabeth Alex is a traveler, storyteller and speaker with Unbound, an international humanitarian organization. She lives with her husband and daughter in Kansas City.