While in India last summer, I came face-to-face with the reality of why such a distinct smell lingers in many of its cities and villages. Before the city had awaken, I walked through a city in Northwest India. Suddenly, as I turned a corner, I was greeted by nearly a hundred piles of human waste. This unreal sight and sickening smell immediately shocked me. In the United States, it’s unnatural to see human waste outside of a toilet bowl. Yet, for many in the developing world, this sight is commonplace. For many, the ground is their only toilet.
The inaccessibility of restrooms is a dehumanizing aspect of poverty that is often overlooked, especially by those who’ve consistently had access to sanitary restrooms. The truth is that the availability of a bathroom affects every aspect of human life. In India, the number of students attending school is directly correlated with the number of available toilets. This correlation is felt strongest by females whose school attendance is often hindered by unavailable sanitary toilets. According to engineer Priti Parikh, a leading Indian slum developer, an investment of $100 per family into proper sanitation facilities tends to increase the literacy rates of children from 30% to 60%. From Parikh’ findings, the increased number of sanitary toilets have helped double the earned income of women over a period of only 5 years.
In addition to promoting health and school attendance, sanitary toilets are necessary for achieving human dignity- a basic human right. Those who defecate during the night on the streets of India have had their human dignity stripped from them; they have been denied their basic human rights of privacy, health, and sanitation. In the gospels, Jesus often encountered people who had experienced such loss. In the story of the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus’ activity restores a man’s dignity and addresses the issues that had stolen his humanity (Luke 8:26-39). Providing sanitary toilets for human beings is one way to assist in restoring the lives of those who have been stripped of their basic human rights.
Bibliography: Parikh, Priti. The Role of Engineering in International Development. Cambridge University Engineering. March 15, 2010.
Written by: Stephen Carver