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Public toilet facilities provided by the Bhutan Toilet Organisation during Haa's moenlam chenmo held last month
Public toilet facilities provided by the Bhutan Toilet Organisation during Haa's moenlam chenmo held last month

Making public toilets clean and accessible

Bhutan Toilet Organisation members have taken upon themselves to make it a reality

MAIN STORY: Using traditional toilet was a strange affair, indeed. It didn’t need to be flushed since the human waste would drop straight down to the ground from a wide opening high up, usually located on the first floor of a house. People didn’t have to use toilet paper. They used sticks and stones. The pigs would be waiting for the human dirt shooting down.

Much has changed the way people relieve themselves. But the tradition of employing sticks and stones to wipe clean of the mess has remained.

To change this habit among the Bhutanese, the members of the Bhutan Toilet Organisation (BTO), a non-profit organisation, are committed towards building a toilet culture in the country.

Informally founded in 2014, the organisation’s objective is to inspire and empower individuals and communities through education, advocacy and social initiatives about toilet culture.

Founder of the BTO, Passang Tshering, said that having grown up using dirty toilets, people tend to think that all toilets are ‘dirty’.

“The moment we discuss about public toilets, we imagine all the filth and odour there. This very mind-set affects all the decision we make today and stops us from moving forward to a better future. This has happened to all our existing public toilets in towns across the country,” Passang Tshering said.

BTO's members and volunteers dismantles the public toilet after the Peling tshechu held in Thimphu
BTO’s members and volunteers dismantles the public toilet after the Peling tshechu held in Thimphu

To dispel this myth, Passang Tshering and his group at the BTO and volunteers, started cleaning the public toilets to the surprise of most people. They transformed the dirty, unusable toilets to a new one, encouraging community members and youth to do so as well.

“The public toilets hadn’t been maintained for quite some time by the way they looked. Our main focus was not only to clean these public toilets but also to make sure that there was someone to look after the works we had done,” Passang Tshering said. “Our major strength was seeing a large participation of local volunteers from different regions, which in turn helped the volunteers learn ways to take care of the toilets in their own region.”

The organisation started managing public toilets during major events such as Paro tshechu, Zhabdrung tshechu in Punakha and Peling tshechu in Thimphu.

“During those events, I noticed that people would walk into the toilets with their nose covered because they knew that the toilet would be dirty,” Passang Tshering said.

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“A moment later I would hear them exclaim from inside, ‘wow, it’s so clean!’ And a few would come out with their face glowing and thank us for the clean toilet,” he said. “We want to see this change of mind-set and attitude in everyone where they expect a clean public toilet.”

It just takes few minutes to clean the toilets, Passang Tshering said. “To change things in life takes time but to change the atmosphere in the toilet is easy by providing a clean and accessible environment.”

Inspired by such small changes in people when they see and use a clean toilet, the organisation’s next project is to provide the similar accessible and clean toilet facilities to people attending the Royal Bhutan Flower exhibition in Paro.

The team from BTO are currently building a detachable and portable toilet made out of wood and traditional interlocking system. Hand painted with bright colours by the members, the toilets looks cosy and inviting. More units for females will be provided.

These portable toilets will be perched up on a long trench that would be dug up by the members and volunteers. Buckets of sawdust will be kept near the toilets.

“When we cover the waste with a thin layer of saw dust it reduces the smell. After the event finishes, we will dismantle the toilets and cover the pits, which can be later used as manure for the flowers,” Passang Tshering said.

The issue of having fewer useable and clean toilets have been there for a long time. “We were waiting for it to change but nothing was happening. The idea to bring a change materialised after I became a member of World Toilet Organisation,” Passang Tshering said.

“Toilets in the hospitals and public spaces are always overwhelmed and people always complain about them. Maintaining a clean toilet is important and it’s high time people understood it,” he said. “Most of the public toilets are also hidden from the public places, which also encourages every open space to become a toilet for the people.”

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BTO has a long way to go to provide clean toilets to everyone, but the longer way to go in making people appreciate clean toilets and develop sound toilet habits in them, Passang Tshering said.

Passang Tshering added: “Everyone seems to understand the need for change but what must change first lies within us. Its time we change the dirty toilet mind set. We must acknowledge that a public toilet can be a nice refreshing place. It should be given its due importance. We should stop pushing toilets away from us into the locations that are hardly accessible.”

A member of BTO, Che Dorji, said the message of having a clean toilet in place has reached across the country. “People are talking about it and many seem to be taking initiatives in their own ways. While there are also some who help us convey the message through the social media platforms across the country and beyond.”

Currently, the organisation is collaborating with relevant agencies to put up similar clean and accessible toilet in designated places through the highways in the country.

BTO is yet to register as a non-governmental organisation. Today, it has more than 300 registered volunteers working with the organisation.

Thinley Zangmo 

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One comment

  1. It’s great to see that the public toilets near me are clean and accessible for everyone to use.

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