When you look at your toilet, what do you see? Most of us see the first stop we make when we wake up in the morning, the area of the bathroom our roommate never cleans, or a place to read the mail (okay, maybe not most of us). Twenty-six year old Grace Breedlove looks at a toilet and sees hope.
In 2010 Breedlove traveled to Southeast Asia as part of 100 Friends, a nonprofit that connects grassroots giving with individuals and organizations in the Developing World, to deliver donations to the Center for Children’s Happiness, an orphanage and school serving Cambodia’s impoverished children. What she saw and learned amazed her. “Here were kids found working in garbage dumps, looking for food, whose parents died or were dying of AIDS and other diseases,” she recalls, “and now they’re going to be doctors, nurses, and teachers.”
But Breedlove tells me that all the help the children get at the Center is only half the story – the second half to be precise. “All the protection, medicine, education and nutrition the Center offers would mean nothing without clean water.”
Watered down coverage
According to figures compiled at Water.org, a child dies from water-related diseases every 20 seconds and nearly one billion people worldwide go without access to safe water, yet the crisis is vastly underreported. The clean-water epidemic facing our world claims more lives than war and violence each year. Diarrhea, the most common symptom of inadequate water access, is the second-leading cause of the deaths in children under five; it kills more young kids than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. (In the time it took to read that paragraph, another life was lost).
In a media circuit in which diseases like AIDS or violent conflict around the world have to compete with stories about Charlie Sheen for our attention, is it any wonder that “unsexy” stories like a working septic system never enter the spotlight? Breedlove is on a mission to flush attention – and much needed funds – to where they can do some real good in the least likely of places: the toilet
A passion for porcelain
It was during her visit to Cambodia that Breedlove befriended Bourey, her tuk tuk driver and default tour guide. “Bourey was kind enough to show me around and even invited back to his home to meet his family,” she says, “ His house was a box half the size of my living room, and this was considered decent, not even the slums.” Breedlove recalls that Bourey’s children, who lived with their parents in an area lacking water sanitation, were sick “on a cyclical basis, one after the other.”
“At Christmas time his son got severely sick with viral diarrhea and they couldn’t afford the hospital bill. We were able to send some money that helped save his life.”
Can you remember the last time a case of diarrhea got so bad it threatened your life? Considering more people in the world have cell phones and access to computers than those who can access sanitary toilets, the answer is probably no. Everybody’s [poop] may stink the same, but for some the results can be downright lethal.
The big picture
There are few more effective ways of delivering aid to the developing world than investing in safe water and sanitation systems. According to water.org, The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that for every dollar spent, a return of $3 – $34 is generated (that’s a minimum return of 300 percent). Think about it: educational aid is no good if kids are always absent or are dying of preventable diseases before they can graduate.
Breedlove’s vision is that the senseless suffering caused by unsafe water systems will no longer be an early and often crippling impediment to progress.
“Simply providing the infrastructure and public health education can mean the difference between perpetuating the cycle of poverty, disease and destitution or living fuller, healthier lives,” she says, “But disenfranchised people will never be able to pull themselves out of poverty if they can’t keep their sewage separate from their drinking water.”
How to get involved
Help Grace Breedlove raise money for her fact-finding mission to rural Cambodia by donating to her cause, Toilet Equality Project. Many sanitation projects fail because of inadequate education, instruction, or follow up with the communities the projects are built to serve. Research-based “smart aid” the Breedlove hopes to deliver helps to make sure that doesn’t happen. To help make equal access to clean water a reality (a donation of just $30 can pay for a sanitary toilet) or to read more about Breedlove’s cause, visit her WePay Giving page here:
Don’t flush your dollars down the toilet – unless of course it’s one of Breedlove’s.