In February, the world watched as the Carnival Triumph cruise ship was stranded at sea. 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members were trapped on a ship with little fresh water, little food, and toilets that would not work for 5 days.
It was all over the news, details of the deplorable conditions filled the airwaves, everyone was hoping for the safe return and health of the people on board.
Yet, every day, 2.5 billion people experience those exact same conditions. Let me write that number out for you, 2,500,000,000. That’s an awful lot of zeros. That’s larger, by 2,188,408,083 people than the population of the United States in 2011. It’s an astronomical number for most of us to contemplate, and an even bigger health problem. Not having a toilet to flush results in open defecation, the practice of pooping in an open environment without benefit of a toilet or latrine.
Yep, that’s right kids, we’re talking about poop. It’s not a subject that’s spoken about a great deal. It’s not polite, and it’s certainly not pretty. But one of the major problems the people on the Carnival Triumph faced was how to deal with human waste. It carries bacteria and viruses, exposure to feces keeps the body from absorbing vital minerals and vitamins, and well, it stinks. For developing nations without a great deal of infrastructure in the way of sewers and running water, it’s a big issue.
It’s our cause, at SUM1, because we not only want everyone to wash their hands to prevent the spread of disease, we want everyone to have access to toilets, to prevent a major cause of disease. I know you’ve read our website at http://www.sum1.org. I know, if you’re reading this blog, that you care about the state of sanitation and the health of people in the world. Did you know that 200,000,000 tons of feces go untreated every year? That’s another astronomical number. Two hundred million tons.
It seems impossible, at times, to imagine how we, a non-profit based in the United States, can solve this problem, but we believe that through our education and intervention model – teaching proper handwashing and other hygiene techniques, as well as intervening by building toilets and working with other non-profits to bring modern conveniences to rural areas – we can make a real difference, one person, one village at a time. We believe in ourselves and in our mission. We believe in our volunteers, our readers, our subscribers. We believe in health and we believe we can make progress in spite of those astronomical figures. We believe in the people we educate.
Why do I donate my time, my energy, and my effort to SUM1? Why am I so interested in the health and well-being of people half a world away from me? Why do I care?
The answer isn’t easy, but it is important. I often use quotes on our Twitter and Facebook pages to illustrate a point, or to encourage our followers and subscribers to think. One I used recently has stuck with me. Seneca said, “See how many are better off than you are, but consider how many are worse.
I’m an extremely fortunate person. I live safely and securely between four walls, my children and I are healthy, I go to school, I have a job I love, I have clean running water in my home, I don’t have to worry about death from diarrheal diseases, I don’t have to contemplate how the contaminated water I bring home is harming my kids. I’m so lucky, but for me, being lucky means I have the time and energy to think about, and help, those who don’t have the things I do. I have the time to make a difference, and I’m physically and emotionally capable of doing so. It became imperative for me to help change the way things are.
I chose SUM1 because I have issues. People laugh when I tell them that, but it’s true. I have issues, most of them related to hygiene and cleanliness. I can’t abide messes. I can’t handle being dirty. I wash my hands a lot, probably more than most people, and I’m okay with it. When I looked at the world, and discovered the prevalence of diseases related to a lack of hygiene, my OCD little heart cried. How would I live with these issues? How would I cope knowing that my children had a chance of dying before age 5? I had to take action, I had to do something. My choice was to join the team at SUM1. I felt that the work SUM1 does is vitally important, especially since SUM1 works in regions where sanitation is virtually non-existent.
So, here I am, the Social Media Director for SUM1, spending several hours a day searching for articles and information about our issues to post on Facebook and Twitter, researching items for our meetings, hoping to leave my comfort zone in the near future to help our cause, and having my heart broken every time I read the terrible statistics on death due to sanitation issues.
Why do I do this? How could I not? How could I see the information I read every day and not do something about it? How could I walk away from the mothers losing their children, the children losing their mothers and not seek to change the conditions they live in? The question isn’t “why”, the question is “Why not?”