World Toilet Day is Here!

Dearest Poopers, If you've already had your morning movement, you may have noticed something different about your toilet today. You may have noticed it was slightly puffed up, proud of itself. It may have been wearing an extra big smile, showing off its porcelain whites. And after your product was whisked away down the drain , perhaps you could sense that your toilet was patting itself on the tank.

Yes indeed, this World Toilet Day, toilets everywhere are luxuriating in the acclaim that's so seldom afforded to them. Just think of all the wonderful things your toilet does for you! Six times a day (on average), the toilet takes away your pain. Your toilet doesn't judge you or call you names. It's there for you through pizza, hot dogs and taco night, lovingly accepting that which your own body has rejected.

But toilets are not just convenient, they're critical. World Toilet Day stands as a celebration of a technology that has prevented countless deadly diseases in the past 150 years, and as an act of solidarity with the over 40% of our world population still living--and dying--without access to safe toilets. Yet in a recent survey of things they could not live without, British museum-goers ranked toilets 9th, behind sunshine, internet connection, Facebook and email (clean water was 3rd). In India more people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet, and the amount GDP that is lost in Africa due to sanitation exceeds all foreign aid dollars. What a waste.

Across the spectrum, changing our relationship to the toilet requires us to reassess our understanding of value. Though poop may smell bad and be not the prettiest product to every emerge from our bodies (what is, really?), it is essentially a product. It is a nutrient-rich commodity that must be handled and processed like any other, from which there is money to be made. In the "developed" world, we are only beginning to compare the value of poop to that of the water we flush it in, or the energy and infrastructure required to maintain it (hear more from Science Friday on NPR). In the "developing" world, we are beginning to understand how making toilets "cool" can generate demand for them in ways simple health lectures never could. (Read more on the changing attitudes toward toilets from World Toilet Day founder, Jack Sim.)

The POOP Project is proud to be part of an awakening shaking abdomens around the world. As gross as it may be, poop is undeniably a part of us. It is our shadow, our shame. But it is also THE shit; it is our gold. It is the part of us that connects back to the earth and renews our relationship to the universe. We can turn our waste into a world of opportunity, and it all starts with four simple words:

"I love you, toilet."

A Joyous World Toilet Day to you all, and peaceful pooping.

Shawn "The Puru" Shafner

World Toilet Day Gone Down the Drain

To all the performers, volunteers and hip New Yorkers who came out to make World Toilet Day New York a huge success: THANK YOU!!  The place was packed with Bacchanalian revelers singing, dancing, and worshiping at the altar of the Porcelain God.  I was one proud Puru to stand in front of so many poopers all gathered in one place.  (See them all practicing their squats on our Facebook fan page or Flickr stream!) For those almost three hours, we managed to create a supportive community where the most private and embarrassing details of our lives become commonplace conversation.  By the end of the night, not a thigh muscle was left unstrained as people proudly squatted in solidarity with our toilet-less brothers and sisters.  Not to mention that we raised $652.08, which will all go towards producing outreach materials and bringing a one-man shit show to the Edinburgh International Fringe in 2011.

We've got a great flow going, now let's keep it moving!

There are many different sides to the sanitation question--domestic, international, environmental, sociological--but in honor of World Toilet Day, here are a few ways to get educated and get involved in empowering the developing world with a proper place to put their poo.

BROWSE: The UN's Water For Life initiative gives a great overview with links to many other resources., although they couch sanitation as a water issue, also offers a very accessible primer. Lastly, Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council gives an in-depth overview on many of the key sanitation issues facing the developing world. For some quick statistics, take a look at WaterAid and these UN graphs and maps.

WATCH: Adam Yamaguchi of Vanguard explores the World Toilet Crisis first-hand in this 45 min. documentary.  (More from Vanguard on the subject here.) These five videos won the USAID Environmental Health Sanitation Video Contest--five very inspiring takes on how to convince a community that toilets are important.

READ: Journalist Rose George's 2009 book, The Big Necessity, is a thorough and well-written introduction to the complicated world of both domestic and international sanitation.  2008 was declared the International Year of Sanitation, something UNICEF commemorated by co-publishing The Last Taboo, an in-depth account by Maggie Black and Ben Fawcett of how the crisis came to be, and how progress is and is not being made.

DO: Get together with your family, roommates or co-workers to fund a latrine in Burundi through sponsoring a child but a little different.  Consider donating to the World Toilet Organization, the people who sponsor World Toilet Day and serve as the number one advocate on behalf of the toilet-less.

MOST IMPORTANT: Lift the lid, unlock the stall door, and SPEAK UP for those who haven't got a pot to piss in.  Literally.

Wishing you all a year of peaceful pooping, until World Toilet Day 2012.

The Puru


And some videos to whet your appetite: