Group Finds Way to Give People Restrooms

Everyone can come together to help get more working restrooms in areas of the world that are lacking them

Group Finds Way to Give People Restrooms

A photo showing the sidewall of a toilet located in Diepsloot, South Africa, that was sponsored by Randy Lorge and his family.

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According to an article I read online, as of Jan. 30, 2018, there were 262 public restrooms available for use at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. With another click of the mouse, I was also able to determine that the average number of people who visit the resort per day is about 53,000.

Pull the calculator up for some quick math and that equates to approximately a 202:1 ratio of people using each toilet every day. Incredible right?

Now, of course, these visitors also have the luxury of using their own restroom in their hotels or places of residence while on vacation. So if we take another glance at this statistic, we could derive that based on the average family size of 2.6 people in the U.S., almost 20,385 families visit the resort every day.

If each family has just one restroom in their hotel, or place of residence, that turns out to 20,385 additional restrooms. Now we’re talking some serious numbers folks. Think of the plumbing labor hours it took to install those restrooms and the staggering amount of plumbing service calls that creates. Amazing!

Here’s another incredible statistic for you, for every 129 people, there is one toilet. Again, that’s the ratio of people using one toilet every day. It’s a little lower than Disney’s, but it’s still a pretty significant number of people using one toilet. Now what if I told you this statistic isn’t from a theme park or some sports stadium. A total of 39 households share one toilet. The average family size in South Africa is 3.3 people. Let that sink in for a second. These families do not have indoor plumbing.

Diepsloot is one of South Africa’s most densely populated townships, stretching over 5 square miles. The township was established in 1994 as a transit zone for migrant workers from southern Africa, while also providing a relocation area for marginalized populations moved from shack-land settlements within the city of Johannesburg.

Most of township’s inhabitants live in 9-by-9-foot shacks made of scrap metal, wood and plastic. The official census number for Diepsloot in 2011 was 138,329. However, over the past 20 years the population has mushroomed to over 400,000, while unofficial reports estimate the population to be closer to 500,000.

In 2016, a colleague and I had a unique opportunity to take a team of young plumbers and engineers from the U.S. to Diepsloot where we joined with three other global teams to work on these public toilets as part of a Community Plumbing Challenge (www.iwsh.org).

To give you a better understanding of these toilets, imagine two concrete-type portable restrooms located side by side along the street in the village. Mounted on the outside of each toilet is a concrete basin for hand-washing and a place for the residents to wash their clothes. Each toilet is connected to a public water supply and the public sewer system.

Our primary goal was to work collectively to determine best practices and designs for these public toilets. We developed designs that would help with basic maintenance issues. We presented ways to upgrade the sinks and taps for the restrooms while training a small group of locals who work under the label of WASSUP (Water Amenities Sanitation Services Upgrading Program), which is supported by a nonprofit organization called Sticky Situations, on the basics of plumbing and maintenance.

We also addressed a very serious problem that many of us here in the U.S. never even consider: installing secure doors on the toilets. This simple feature afforded the families a safe place to go.  

The teams did some great work, but we were only there for a week and worked on about 10 toilet upgrades. If we played with the numbers I gave you earlier, at 3.3 people per household and 39 households per toilet, that would mean based on the official population in 2011 of 138,329, you would have 41,918 households. Divide the number of total households by 39 households per toilet and you would have 1,075 toilets. I can say that there are not 1,075 working toilets in Diepsloot.

That project took place almost four years ago. WASSUP is still going strong in Diepsloot. Their work is endless, but they get up every day and get after it. This past December, on Giving Tuesday, our www.iwsh.org team created a fundraiser for them. We were able to send them over $2,000. WASSUP also created a fundraiser called #AdoptAToilet.

For $100 the supporter gets:

Your logo chosen image/text painted by local sign-writers on your adopted toilet-house

Direct communication with the WASSUP team

One year of updates on your toilet’s activities:

Before and after pictures

What challenges your adopted toilet faces daily

Regular photo updates on how your toilet is doing

Your logo or image at the Google Map pin

Videos from your toilet with comments from people who use the facility

In December 2019, the Lorge family became the foster parents of our very own toilet in Diepsloot. Check it out:

Please consider adopting a toilet of your own by visiting www.stickysituations.org/wassup.diepsloot.html, and let’s continue to protect the health of the nation!  

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Randy Lorge is a third-generation plumber and the director of workforce training and development for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). Lorge is also a member of the planning team for the International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation (IWSH). This 501(c)(3) foundation has completed water and sanitation projects for those less fortunate in India, South Africa, Indonesia and, more recently, the United States. He enjoys time with his family and spending as much time as possible in his deer stand. To contact Lorge, email editor@plumbermag.com.



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