Friday, May 27, 2016

Dirty Toilet is a Mindset – Clean it!

“No, the toilets shouldn’t be here, it would be an ugly sight. No, no, no it can’t be there, the wind would blow the smell into the tent.”

This is a typical instruction from the commanding officer at any event site while deciding where to build toilets for the public during big events. Working for Bhutan Toilet Organization I was engaged in few such committee meetings and it’s disappointing to observe that even the most educated official among us had to be told that the toilets won’t be dirty and it won’t smell if we don’t want to. But almost all the time they win, and these people who won’t have to worry about managing the toilets in the following days make the decision on where and how toilets should be built.

Having grown up with dirty toilets, it has now become a mindset that all toilets will be dirty. The moment we discuss about public toilet we imagine all the filthy toilets we have seen in the past and even remember how it smelled. This very mindset affects all the decision we make now and stops us from moving forward into better future. This has happened to all our existing public toilets in towns across the country.

Working for Bhutan Toilet Organization I had the privilege of managing toilets at three major events in last few months. We began with Paro Tshechu, went to Punakha during Zhabdrung Tshechu and Peling Tshechu in Thimphu. We must have served at least fifty thousands people.
During those events, standing near the toilet door for days we had fun giving people the surprises of their lives. People would walk into our toilets with their nose covered because they knew from all their fond memories that the toilet would be dirty. A moment later we would hear them exclaim from inside, “Wow, it’s so clean”. And few good people would come out without their pride and thank us for the clean toilet.
At Paro Tshechu 
We surprise the people more by sitting under the shade of the toilet and enjoying our lunch while they come in and go our of our toilets. We believe that a toilet should be clean enough to sit by and enjoy a meal. We aren’t obliging anyone to live by our belief but because toilets are kept so clean our volunteers voluntarily enjoy their lunch near the toilet.

We have a long way to go on this journey of providing clean toilets to everyone and longer way to go in making people appreciate clean toilets and develop sound toilet habits in them. Many organizations and individuals are working on this. Everyone seems to understand the need for change but what must change first lies within us. We must change the dirty toilet mindset.
We must acknowledge that a public toilet can be a nice refreshing place. It should be given its due importance. We must stop pushing toilets away from us into the locations that are hardly accessible. At least the highly educated people who make decision on the design and location of public toilets must have clean toilets at home to base their perception of toilets, unless it’s so dirty at home.

This article is originally published in Business Bhutan on 21st May 2016.

Monday, May 09, 2016

No School on Saturday

One regret I have from my childhood is not having spent enough time with my parents. I thought I would get all the time in the world to be with them once I finish my school. I didn't see this coming. After school came college and then came job, in between I lost my stepfather. Now I only get to meet my mother for less than a month each year. Soon life will be over. 

The cycle continues with my daughter. She is in school six days a week and returns home exhausted. We wait for her till afternoon on Saturdays to go anywhere. Sundays are full of activities, mostly going around and before we figure out how to make smart use of the lone family day in a week she will be gone to college. Then we will be gone. 

Typical Saturday in School
Can we not have school on Saturday? So that by Friday evening we feel so relaxed and for the next two days children can do real things in life. Even children in hostel could undertake various vocations or visit home and do real things that really matter in life. Across the world, in all countries known for best education systems children don't go to school on Saturdays. In fact children are not given homework during the weekends. 

Ever since Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk took office as the new Education Minster I felt a sudden gush of energy in the Education Ministry. People are motivated and therefore things are going to change. Many positive changes that are on dusty paper are finally going to flow into schools. But often in the name of change we push for more. It's the natural way things but did it work so far? We have overloaded schools with news things when they haven't figured out how to do the old thing very well. 


For once could we try lesser in the name of change? Because we have never tried that, so let's take away Saturday from the school week. It will avoid school-fatigue in students, and lesser they get to be in school more they will appreciate their time in school. Moreover, we talk a lot about youth issues perhaps we should give them more family time to sort things out. School is taking lot of family time away from them, and perhaps we should stop thinking that school has all the solutions. We don't, it's proven. 

As for the teachers, they are exhausted people, often frustrated, they deserve good rest over the weekend just like any civil servant, if not more, which actually should have been the case. They need time with their own children as well. What's the use if at the end of the day your own children are deprived of everything you boast to have given to your students. Therefore there can be no greater incentive than Saturday with their own family. 

In Finland, the number one education system in the world, teachers only work for 570 hours in a year, half that of the United States and third of ours. Our teachers work 1440 hours in a year. But where are we in comparison? Therefore less is more. If anything should be more it should be the salary because in Finland (again) teachers are paid almost Nu.5600 per hour. They earn our monthly salary in half a day. So lets forget about the salary, and concentrate on Saturday because it's possible. 

Other civil servants who have their Saturdays off don't really get to relax because they have to prepare their children for school and drop them to school. Then wait till afternoon to go anywhere. So even when so many offices are closed on Saturday we still see traffic jam because the schools are open. 

I had this on my mind for the longest time but now seems the right time to share because of the optimism that has come with the new minister. So I hereby request Education Minister to consider removing things from our system, instead of adding and let Saturday be the first to be removed.

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