When Peixin Li took up an internship in Bangalore, as part of her Social Science and Communication course at National University of Singapore, little did she know that she would, in some way, champion the cause of clean sanitation in a remote village in South India. But the 22-year-old’s experiences while traveling here and her work in an organization that connects those with financial resources and the desire to help, with those who need money to improve their lives, inspired her to start an online campaign to “Lend-a-Toilet.”
A third-year student, the Singaporean came to Bangalore a few months ago to do a six-month internship in Public Relations at Milaap, under the NUS Overseas India programme. Milaap was started a few years ago by three urban young men to address the needs of people in rural areas such as clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity, education and healthcare through micro-finance.
“As part of my internship here, I would accompany the people from Milaap for field visits and was really inspired by the organization’s work — acting as facilitator between people who have the money and want to make a contribution for a social cause, and the rural poor who want to take a loan to fulfil their basic needs. During one such field visit, I went to Musiri, a village near Trichy, Tamil Nadu where Milaap was collaborating with an NGO called Guardian to provide sanitation facilities and give loans to build toilets. It was an eye-opener to listen to the experiences of the villagers, the lack of awareness, the difficulties faced and the feedback from those who have benefited from loans. That’s when I decided that I should do my bit to raise funds for clean sanitation,” says Peixin.
As much as it was a cultural shock for her to see people defecating in the open because of lack of toilets, her own experience in India played a huge part in her decision to initiate the campaign. “I have been traveling to various places in India and during one such journey, my friends and I were forced to do our business (answer nature’s call) in the open because there were no toilets for miles together. And that’s not the bad part. When we were doing it behind the bushes there were two guys who were just coming behind us and staring at us. It was not just an inconvenience but harassment and an intrusion of our privacy. It got me thinking about how women in villages in India would be vulnerable to sexual harassment and attacks whenever they go out to answer nature’s call in the open at night,” adds Peixin.
Peixin set up a website for her Lend-A-Toilet initiative around November 19 to coincide with World Toilet Day. Through this campaign, she plans to raise funds for toilet loans for eight households in Musiri. Each toilet will cost Rs 10,000 (around US $ 200) and she needs to raise US $ 1,600.
In addition to raising the money, Peixin has also made a short documentary on the issue to raise awareness about the condition of people who do not have access to clean toilets. She hopes that those who visit the website will see the documentary and be inspired to make a loan for building the toilets.
“In the beginning it was difficult because I did not know how I could get people to come forward to provide loans. So I started with those whom I knew — people who are close to me, my friends etc and spread the word through them. Once they contributed, I was hopeful that others would follow suit.”
Milaap, Guardian and the World Toilet Organisation are supporting Peixin in her endeavour. What’s heartening is that the World Toilet Organisation has confirmed that they would match whatever loans she manages to raise so that more needy people can be reached out through the campaign.
When we last spoke to Peixin this is what she said, “I am glad to share with you that my campaign is finally fully funded. In a short 14 days time, a total of 29 loans have been made which total up to US $ 1,600. However, I do not want to stop here. In the remaining days, I hope to raise more loans so that more villagers can benefit! It is not short of a miracle.”
The Lend-a-Toilet campaign will be on till December 2 and those interested in making a loan can check http://lendatoilet.causevox.com