Toilet-twinning initiative that shows can-do spirit

Susannah Birkwood reports on an unusual scheme that aims to raise awareness of and funds for better sanitation in developing countries

Lavs and lav-nots: a supporter of the scheme
Lavs and lav-nots: a supporter of the scheme

Twinning your toilet with one in a developing country is an addictive pastime for some people, including Gweirydd Williams, an environmental health officer at Bridgend County Borough Council in south Wales.

Williams is a "champion twinner", according to Toilet Twinning, a fundraising initiative run as a joint venture by the overseas peacebuilding charity Cord and the international development charity Tearfund. Over the past few years, Williams has twinned more than 100 toilets, including that of his local MP, Huw Irranca-Davies, and one at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in Wales. He hopes the number will reach 200 this year.

A supporter of Toilet Twinning pays £60 to twin their toilet with one sited in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda or Zambia. In exchange, they receive a certificate featuring a photo of an already-built toilet selected by Toilet Twinning - though people can choose the country in which it is located - along with details of its GPS coordinates so they can look it up online.

As well as raising funds for Cord and Tearfund's water and sanitation activities, the initiative raises awareness of the fact that 2.5 billion people do not have access to safe and clean toilets. The largest group of supporters are individuals at 70 per cent, followed by churches and then schools.

The wife of Cord's then regional director for Africa came up with the idea in 2008. Having sponsored the building of a toilet in Africa through Cord's alternative gift catalogue as a Christmas present, she cut out a picture of the latrine and put it on the bathroom wall. The idea was then pitched to the charity's development director and was launched several months later. Five hundred toilets were twinned in the first three months, so the charity decided to partner with Tearfund in 2010 to give it access to more countries that needed improved sanitation.

Since then, the project has raised £2.32m with an expenditure of £940,000, and has twinned about 35,000 toilets in more than 40 countries. The money raised from each twinning does not fund the toilet shown on people's certificates, but it does go towards building and installing other toilets - which cost between £10 and £100 in Africa - and towards hygiene education and clean-water projects.

But what happens once a toilet has been twinned? It's a permanent arrangement, not repeated on an annual basis, but some supporters of the scheme also carry out generic fundraising. Williams has carried out more conventional forms of fundraising, such as a sponsored back wax, a church "mission night" and a Onesie Challenge across the Severn Bridge. Rosemary Clarke, director of the One World Centre on the Isle of Man, has also sought donations by decorating her work Christmas tree with toilet-shaped baubles.

"We also brought out a toilet roll that costs £8 and features pictures of three of our twinned toilets," says Lorraine Kingsley, chief executive of Toilet Twinning. "This year we're planning to launch a soap product." The toilet twinning initiative will be launched in three more countries - Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines - in the coming months.

John Bird, general manager of the peer-to-peer division at the software company Blackbaud, first discovered Toilet Twinning when he used the gents at a Friends Meeting House in Birmingham. Here he gives five reasons why it's a great idea:

It's simple The name tells people what it's about, and it's humorous and engaging

People can relate to it It's about toilets, so they understand the cause and where the money is going

The idea endures Donors not only want to give money to the project - they also share the idea with friends, so they are doing the work of the charity

The price is based on the true cost of building the toilet Sixty pounds is a figure that people can relate to - it's cheaper than going to B&Q and fitting a toilet yourself

You can put the framed certificate on your wall The certificate itself reinforces the value of the gift and works well in a corporate context

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