S'porean 'Mr. Toilet' put S'pore on world map by taking everyone's sh*t seriously

His suggestion to MFA eventually became a UN resolution.

Tanya Ong| November 19, 11:43 AM

Today (Nov. 19) is World Toilet Day.

In a Facebook post, Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh acknowledged the importance of having access to toilets worldwide.

He also expressed his appreciation for two Singaporeans, Jack Sim and Ambassador Karen Tan, who were instrumental to this cause.

Sim is the founder of the World Toilet Organisation, while Tan persuaded the UN to make the 19th of November each year, the World Toilet Day.

UN resolution tabled in 2013

In 2013, Singapore tabled the UN resolution "Sanitation for All", urging member states to improve access to sanitation among the poor, raise awareness on clean toilets and eradicate open defecation.

This idea was first suggested by Sim to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2009, but was rejected and deemed "inappropriate".

By 2013, things had changed and thanks to Sim's original idea, the United Nations (UN) passed the "Sanitation for All" resolution and marked World Toilet Day on Nov. 19.

Known as Mr. Toilet, Sim is the man behind World Toilet Organisation (WTO) and strives to change the world, one toilet at a time.

Background to how the WTO was formed

Sim's personal experiences had informed his passion for this cause.

He grew up in a poor kampung home and at that time, toilets with proper plumbing and sanitation were not widely available in Singapore.

Instead, people urinated and defecated into buckets, which would be cleared by night soil collectors.

Sim recounted his personal experience:

"We didn’t have a toilet. We had a row of bucket systems -- common toilets outside and then we had to go to those toilets. And it was traumatic. Other people's poop, and there were worms - a lot of intestinal worms -- because all the children had intestinal worms. And there were also sanitary napkins with blood ... And there were the big shiny green flies that would come to you while you are going."

Even though Singapore's night soil days are now over, Jack discovered that discussing the topic of clean toilets was still taboo and shrouded in embarrassment.

He wanted to reduce the stigma in discussing sanitation and toilet cleanliness.

And in order to do that, he set up the Restroom Association in 1998 in an attempt to raise the standards of public toilets in Singapore:

"Then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said: 'We should measure our graciousness according to the cleanliness of our public toilets.' I thought the reality is that we have got untrained, unskilled toilet cleaners, poor design in the ergonomics and also that we don't have a vision, so I think that once we have that, the behaviour will be better. And so I started the Restroom Association."

Going global with WTO

But Sim did not stop at improving Singapore's toilet cleanliness.

He realised that there were other existing toilet associations operating in other countries without proper headquarters, and he wanted to bring these organisations together to share resources and facilitate change.

In 2001, he started the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) to campaign for better sanitation standards in toilets worldwide.

The organisation helps people in other countries, such as India and China, get access to toilets and ensure proper sanitation that does not pollute the rivers and transmit diseases.

Toilets like these:

Image from World Toilet Organisation.

Image from World Toilet Organisation.

Are transformed into this:

Image from World Toilet Organisation.

Image from World Toilet Organisation.

Even though he started out with toilets in Singapore, Sim's mission is for everybody in the world to have access to proper, clean toilets:

"When I began my work in 2001, there were 2.4 billion people without access to proper sanitation which then increased to 2.6 billion. Now, it is 2.4 billion and going down... We cannot stop until every single human being on the planet has access to proper sanitation wherever they are."

Top photo collage: composite image via Getty Images and World Toilet Organisation