It is now a common sight to see a group of young people with masked faces and gloved hands cleaning toilets in most of the public events in the country. They are the volunteers of Bhutan Toilet Organisation (BTO).
BTO is one of Bhutan’s first non-profit organisations committed toward building a toilet culture in the country by inspiring and empowering individuals and communities through education, advocacy and social initiatives.
In any public and commercial settings, toilets are consistently cited as one of the toughest places to clean and maintain. But to these volunteers, it is no hard thing to do.
Besides cleaning the public toilets in the country, the volunteers also set up portable toilets at public events in the country.
The BTO now has more than 1,000 volunteers, who are mostly students, civil servants and people working in civil society organisations.
In the past three years, the volunteers have cleaned more than 60 public toilets, including toilets in some monasteries and dzongs across the country.
Lack of a central body to address the toilet issues in the country fuelled the inception of BTO in 2014.
The founder and the executive director of the BTO, Passang Tshering, said that having been blogger for over a decade, he complained about various issues, but when it came to toilets, there was nowhere he could complain to.
“Everyone seemed to complain about toilets everywhere but there was no particular body that would listen to our complaints and find solutions,” he said. “That’s when I thought we should have a central body to address the toilet issues that’s common across the country.”
He knew about World Toilet Organisation through a friend. “That was the beginning of this beautiful journey.”
The Civil Society Organisations Authority certified the BTO as a Public Benefit Organisation on December 17 last year.
Passang Tshering, who is also known as Chablop, which translates to Toilet Teacher. This is a title given to him by His Majesty The King for his commitment in keeping and advocating the importance of clean toilets across the country.
“We are yet to get our hands on the construction of permanent toilets,” the Chablop said. “We only built a ten-units knockdown toilet that travelled with us to over six events.”
The organisation also campaigns for mandatory toilets in parks, low-income housing estates, construction sites, automobile workshops, and bus stops.
The organisation has ambassadors in all the dzongkhags and two drungkhags to manage sanitation facilities.
It also has set up toilet clubs in the 10 colleges under Royal University of Bhutan. “They have decided to observe October 8 as University Toilet Day,” Passang Tshering said.
He added that the organisation is committed to conserve the country’s pristine environment and have worked towards making the country open defecation-free.
He said that the organisation is also conscious about wastewater management and pollution of river and ground water.
“We shall make sure that no sewer flows directly into the stream or river system,” Passang Tshering said. “In places where there is central sewer management system we will push for mandatory connection to the main sewer system.”
Passang Tshering said that sustaining the volunteers’ efforts is a challenge. “We clean a toilet and the next time we go around we find that the toilets have come back to its original state.”
Most public toilets are left without anyone to man them.
“They give us all the excuses and won’t take responsibility for the problem. We want to address it by training all the existing cleaners and provide people to man their toilets that are neglected,” said the Chablop.
Most of the toilets, Passang Tshering said, including the ones built in recent years, are badly designed, located far from the people and many don’t have proper water supply. “These things lead to difficulty in managing toilets.”
Bhutanese have primitive toilet habits, he added. They don’t use toilet paper or water to clean themselves after using toilet. “People manage with anything they could get like sticks, stones, cardboards, and leaves, among others that chokes the toilets. Flushing is a rare habit among Bhutanese.”
He said that even the educated Bhutanese officials have mindset issue when it comes to toilet.
Having grown up with dirty toilets, it has now become a mindset that all toilets will be dirty, Passang Tshering said. “This mindset affects all the decision we make now and stops us from moving forward into better future.”
During public events, people would walk into the BTO toilets with their nose covered, the Chaplop said. A moment later, they come out waying: “Wow, its so clean.”
“We surprise the people more by sitting under the shade of the toilet and enjoying our lunch while they come in and go out of our toilets,” the Chablop said. “We believe that a toilet should be clean enough to sit by and enjoy a meal.”
Passang Tshering said that people who clean toilets were looked down upon. “But now when our volunteers who are educated and well dressed clean toilets, people hesitate and say that they will clean the toilets themselves.”
Now people are beginning to think differently when it comes to toilet. “That itself is a big step for us. We are now beginning to change the mind set of our people.”
The BTO plans to work on upgrading public toilets, building toilets along the highway and in and around tourist spots, to ensure that toilets are friendly to women and people with disabilities.
Passang Tshering said that the organisation aims to make toilets accessible to differently-abled people, which is lacking today in the country.
Bhutan Toilet Organisation
Clean Toilet For All
Make clean and safe toilet accessible for all and inspire behavioral change by building public awareness and citizen volunteerism.
Conduct Public Toilet Cleaning and Ownership Building Campaign.
Organise Save the Toilet Campaign.
Organise Clean Clean Dzong Toilet Initiatives.
Conduct Public Toilet Surveys.
Advocate for adequate Toilets in Towns and Thromdes.
Build Public Toilets in Labour camps and Public Parks.
Advocate for accessible and girl-friendly Toilets in schools.
Conduct Toilet Baseline Surveys.
Build Highway Restrooms.
Build Capacity of Highway Toilet Managers.
Build and Promote Accessible Toilets.
Make Public Toilets accessible by wheelchair.
Manage Public Toilets during Tshechus.
Manage Public Toilets during Religious Ceremonious.
Manage Public Toilets during National Events.
Introduce Portable Toilet Service.
Prepare and Promote Toilet Services in Emergencies.
Conduct a Nationwide Assessment of Urban Public Toilets.
Audit Toilets in Offices and Restaurants.
Follow up on the audit Reports.
Create Clean Toilet Promotional ads and air on BBS.
Organize Advocacy on Clean Toilets and Positive Habits.
Distribute Ruby Cubs to School-going girls, rural women and nuns.
Produce Squatty potties for improved habits.
With support from Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD)