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Toilets, nerds, and the importance of advocacy

I spent last Friday evening celebrating toilets and talking to a group of nerds about the deadly global impact of diarrheal disease and the solutions to defeat it.

Public speaking doesn’t typically make me nervous, but on Friday, I took advantage of my free drink ticket before taking the stage to talk to a group of young DC professionals about diarrhea. While this topic is familiar enough in global health circles, I’m never quite certain how the public at large will react. Will they laugh without taking the message seriously? Wrinkle their noses in disgust? Lose attention completely?

My concerns were completely unwarranted. As I presented “The Scoop on Poop,” we laughed together at potty humor and edgy communications strategies, then easily segued to the heart of the matter: that while we have the luxury of laughing about toilets and poop jokes, children around the world are dying from a lack of water and sanitation commodities that we consider as basic as air. I was touched by the level of instant engagement and the genuine eagerness of the average person to lend a hand. I felt a sense of camaraderie when I announced that it was World Toilet Day and the crowd whooped and cheered.

When I outlined the basic facts that show how diarrheal disease prevention and treatment interventions  are simple, proven, and cost-effective, one audience member expressed surprise that decision makers weren’t already making these investments, especially give the potential impact for such a low cost. Another asked for a list of organizations that would accept donations to this cause.

For me, the experience underscored the importance of initiatives like World Toilet Day. Many people don’t know that diarrheal disease is the second leading killer of children, but when we raise awareness about its impact, we catalyze a group of passionate individuals who are ready and willing to take action. It is amazing to me that whether it’s Western Province, Kenya, or Washington, DC, education is critical. With information in their hands, the people will do the rest.

 

-- Hope Randall is a Program Assistant for PATH’s diarrheal disease communications and advocacy team