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Security, Privacy, Dignity

What Clean Toilets Mean for Education, Health and Financial Stability

Fourteen-year old Laxmi Biswas used to be one of the 2.5 billion people (more than a third of the world’s population) who lack access to clean toilets.

Sanitation saves lives. Two billion people around the world have parasitic infections due to lack of sanitation and hygiene.

Today, Laxmi and 6,000 other students at schools in Kolkata, India now have access to completely refurbished and clean sanitary facilities, thanks to a community that came together to create lasting solutions.

In many economically developed nations around the world, we take our easy access to clean, sanitary bathrooms for granted. For young women like Laxmi, however, the lack of sanitation can be a major roadblock to a quality education and all the economic opportunities that affords. Unfortunately, too many girls in places like West Bengal are missing school (and eventually dropping out) because they lack access to hygienic facilities. Their alternative is going out into the fields, in a district where trafficking in girls is rampant. So to be clear: we’re not just talking about something that’s inconvenient or embarrassing; we’re talking about the basic safety of young women who deserve better.

The smell was so foul that we did not want to visit the toilet and controlled the urge until we got home. In fact we tried not to drink water to avoid the need to go to the toilet. Now we are very happy and proud of our washroom and drinking water station.”

The new facilities at Laxmi's school include tiled flooring and walls, proper PVC doors, and piped water connections (another vital safety issue, since this district also has high levels of arsenic in the ground water). According to Ms. Banani Parbat, a teacher at the school, “The best part is the running water, as the girls don’t have to carry and use buckets of pond water, which led to infections. Plus there’s a change room giving privacy for menstruating girls.”

This success was made possible by Security, Privacy, Dignity, an initiative led by United Way of Kolkata. They are now working with local communities to bring the same much-needed changes to other schools.

According to Ms. Parbat, “monthly absenteeism has already improved.”

We know that supporting education for young women like Laxmi can be a game-changer for the financial futures of individuals, families, communities and entire nations. But big issues like education, health and financial stability are like those Russian nesting dolls that contain a series of smaller dolls within. Buried several layers down are issues like sanitary facilities for girls: issues that may not make the front page or the evening news, but are nevertheless crucial for the happiness and wellbeing of millions of people. Rather than spreading ourselves too thin, United Way is digging deep, and uncovering solutions that benefit everyone.