Lesley Quirk is a specialist relationship manager for a charity initiative called Toilet Twinning. She liaises with corporates who support its campaign to provide clean water, proper toilets and hygiene training in some of the poorest communities worldwide. She invites people to ‘twin’ their toilet with a latrine overseas – and so sponsor a new toilet for a family abroad.
“I used to work in the catering industry so napkins were an important part of the service we provided. They were about luxury, quality and attention to detail. Now that I work in a sector catering to more basic needs, I look on tissue products rather differently!
“Breaking the taboo around toilets – and talking openly about
the fact that proper sanitation is a universal bare necessity and
human right – is an important part of my working life these days.
Understandably, people generally snigger when they first hear the
name Toilet Twinning, but they soon appreciate the importance of
what we do. I’ve got quite a naughty sense of humour, so that helps!
“So, first, let’s start with loo roll. I tend to avoid big-name brands
as I am allergic to the chemicals used to treat a lot of the branded
products available. So, eco-friendly, non-bleached products are
better for me.
“I enjoying cooking and entertaining so I do use kitchen roll but am not particularly discerning about which I buy and generally just opt for the cheapest. I have two hugely pampered cats – and cleaning up after them is a full-time job in itself.
“I must admit that I still prefer linen napkins for dinner if I have friends over – but there’s such a wide range of beautiful paper napkins available now that the thought of all that washing, starching and ironing starts to lose its appeal.
“Paper napkins are perfect for tea and picnics – and hugely convenient. I’m rather fickle and buy napkins based on their colour or design. I do care about quality, but price matters too when I’m faced with a wall of loo roll options in the local supermarket.
‘I’ve always cared deeply about nature and animal conservation and Toilet Twinning’s work in countries badly affected by climate change means that I like to buy products with strong ‘green’ credentials.
“I’ve been lucky enough to travel a great deal – and generally, the limit of the inconvenience I had to ‘suffer’ previously was having to put loo roll in an unsanitary bin, in countries where you were not allowed to flush it down the toilet.
“Now, when I travel with Toilet Twinning, there’s often no toilet paper at all – and sometimes there’s no toilet either. We work in very poor, remote communities where there are no sewage systems and no piped water. The toilets we help fund are mostly basic pit latrines built with what materials are available locally.
“We don’t provide toilet paper. Logistics and cost are the crucial obstacle but also there are cultural factors to consider too. Obviously, many Islamic and Asian countries tend to use water instead of loo roll… In areas where water is scarce, people have to be resourceful, using leaves or even corn cobs as toilet roll substitutes. Ouch.
“But toilet paper is the least of it. One in three people in the world – or 2.3bn people – don’t have a proper toilet, which means they are vulnerable to disease. Women and girls risk being attacked as they squat in the bush, and teenage girls often drop out of school when their period starts. Even the most basic pit latrine, when properly built, can change lives and even save lives, literally.
“Our approach is to work with the whole community, educating them the link between disease and lack of proper toilets. It’s very easy to build toilets but crucially important that people will keep using them and never want to be without one again.
“That’s why, though we train people to build toilets and sometimes provide
materials, we encourage them to do the hard work for themselves. In that way, they really ‘own’ their toilet and are always immensely proud of them. One man we met once, Bishwo in Nepal (pictured), was so proud of his new loo – the first in the village – that he held a toilet open day and invited all his neighbours to come and try it!
“I don’t tend to invite people round to view my loo – but I really appreciate
my bathroom and luxuries like loo roll. And I will never, ever take my toilet