Though it isn’t sexy, toilets and sanitation are key to the physical and mental health of a community. This has been driven home to me countless times.
When I was working on the HABITATJam, a 2-day online preparatory forum sponsored by UN-HABITAT and IBM leading up to the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006, toilets and sanitation were a much talked about subject. The 70 Actionable Ideas follow-up report to this forum identified some best practices in this area such as the concept of Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) in slums which is a system that separates human waste, provides sanitation services at low cost to poor inhabitants, and recovers waste for reuse in agriculture.
More concretely i learned of the practicalities of toilets in Kibera with a youth group there. They were showing me some of the work they had been doing in creating a recycling centre (great CBC documentary); but they as well showed me the newly built toilet blocks that were built their. They were going to be run as a business, kept clean, and most importantly safe and open to all. (Sammy if you are reading this maybe you can give a quick update on how they are going).
I as well was lucky to be present at a presentation by David Kuria, a social entrepreneur, architect and Ashoka Fellow from Kenya. He is working to bring “toilet malls” to downtown Nairobi. He is passionate about the issue:
…the first thing you see, beautiful thing, is a toilet. When you come to the city of Nairobi, you’ll be shocked. And the next thing you’ll be asking is what is this? It’s a public toilet. We are putting toilet monuments just to try and bring back the importance to our people of public convenience and public toilets.
Lastly, an article came out recently through the USAID Urban Health Updates blog regarding the social side of public toilets, specifically as places where violence is perpetrated on women. Horrific stuff. With slums now being one of the fastest growing forms of human settlements globally, all efforts must be made to provide these basic needs to people. For humanity sake.
NOTE: I had a wonderful lunch when i was in Nairobi with some of the people from the Map Kibera project (you can read my previous blog on this here, or go to their website mapkibera.org). What fascinated me was the stage they were at in regards to the growth of their project and their concern about assuring that the project was sustainable. This got me thinking about sustainability and NGOs. Here are my musings on the subject …
Just as the coin for business is, well, coins, the coin for NGOs is change. Positive change. It is what every NGO assumes it will be able to achieve when they start, and what many fail to do. The challenge often for NGOs as with for-profit companies is achieving and sustaining their success.
To achieve success an agency agency needs to plan, to plan they must have a “business model” – guidelines to better understand where they stand in relation to their own development.
One traditional for-profit model is that of the “business cycle” or “S curve”.
This model is used to understand the growth of industries and organizations. However, the S curve does not recognize key components of a healthy system – specifically the phases of destruction and renewal. A healthy forest is one that has trees grow older, die, and then become the fertilizer for the new growth. The S curve is silent on these phases of destruction and renewal. Ironically, it is the paradox of having things dies that assures the longterm sustainability of a healthy system.
With the selection of tea partier Rand Paul as Senate nominee in Kentucky, and his “my government is no government” views, the world will now be engaged in the 24/7 news cycle discussion on whether we want to be invited.
So, if we are invited as Canadians or Kenyans or Dutch or whatever nationality, the question for me is, what type of tea is being served (or id Koolaid … but that’s another blog), and do we want it? The tea that Rand Paul and the Tea Party is serving is a re-brew of something I think Americans thought they had moved on from 50 years ago, and it has to do with Paul’s repudiation of parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In short, the Civil Rights Act required the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. The issue for Paul is part of the Act which states that All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
Rachel Maddow from MSNBC pressed Paul on whether private business had the right to refuse to serve African-Americans, Paul replied, “Yes.” You can watch the full interview here and here. Paul is also now on record saying that he doesn’t like Obama putting his “boot heel on the throat of BP” because “it sounds un-American – his criticism of business.”
We don’t need to be overburdened by regulation, but when we are dealing with something as basic as not banning people from places due to their race , or as important as assuring that an already catastrophic environmental disaster and its costs be taken care of, then government IS what represents our collective will and action, not corporations.
It never ceases to amaze me how we work to implement long-term planning, slowly moving step by step forward, yet seemingly for an instant we let our eye off the ball and end up four steps back.
There is a litany of backwards “steps” in the last few months.
I remember 20 years ago at an EYA conference watching David Suzuki announce that the 90’s was the “turnaround decade”. Today he bemoans that “we’re still fighting the battles. The direction we’re heading is catastrophic. This is not going to be easy. But the important thing is to get started.”
What sadly seems to move us forward is disasters such as what is happening in the Atlantic; but waiting for disaster is not a sustainable strategy. Perhaps we need to take a page from the youth community, and look at the actions they take to “meaningfully” engage.
Based on a youth engagement model developed by the Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement, I propose four principles of positive sustainability engagement that could be undertaken by sustainability groups:
PRINCIPLES TO SUPPORT MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT IN SUSTAINABILITY
1. People Centred: Organizations respond to people’s diverse talents, skills, & interests in regards to sustainability; build on their strengths by identifying what they do well in the area of sustainability & develop those skills. Feature sustainability leadership & voices
2. Knowledge Centred: Creating opportunities that show people that learning is a reason to get involved. Opportunities that are clearly “about” something, e.g. community service as a way to sustainability; provide activities that deliberately teach a number of lessons & build a range of sustainability concepts and skills; & provide an opportunity for people to connect with a wide array of others undertaking similar work.
3. Assessment Centred: People need opportunities for ongoing feedback, peer reviews, & self-reflection to know how they are doing & how they can do better next time.
4. Care Centred: Effective organizations provide family-like environments where people can feel safe & build trusting relationships.
The radical nature of this model, rough as it is, is to refocus our sustainability work on the process – i.e the people – versus the product – i.e. the environment. Disasters will still happen – people made and natural – but perhaps this way we will be more prepared for them, and in then end our environment will improve. That to me is the basis of sustainability.
If you want the free stuff – mostly in the States I am thinking, click here How to get free stuff on Earth Day. Personally, I think I am going for the Babies R Us free reusable tote bag plus 25% discount off all the clothing and shoes you can fit into the bag. That will make a good gift.
Yes, Earth Day is way over commercialized and just plain cheesy – big noise, small impact. Still, it plays a part, and no, i won’t give you list of 15 things you can do. How do i know what you can do?
I will give you a non-Earth Day two-part challenge (whatever you do, DO NOT do these on Earth Day!):
1. Make every day/minute/second ethical decisions about your life, no matter what your station is in society.
2. Learn, read, learn, log on and read, more about the issues so you have the context to make your own informed ethical decisions.
No matter how close we are to disaster, we will make the world a better place incrementally, with small decisions that collectively move us to big ones.
Have a happy Earth Day!
p.s. Here is what i have read that gives me context for my ethical decisions. (taken from a great website)