United Methodist Committee on Relief

World Toilet Day: November 19

By Lorrie King*

World Toilet Day is about taking action to reach the 2.4 billion people in the world living without a toilet. The theme of World Toilet Day 2016 is “toilets and jobs,” focusing on how sanitation, or the lack of it, can impact people’s livelihoods.

Sanitation is a global development priority. The Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure everyone everywhere has access to toilets by 2030. 

Toilets play a crucial role in creating a strong economy, as well as improving health and protecting people’s safety and dignity, particularly women’s and girls’.

The UN and its partners are getting the message out that toilets save lives, increase productivity, create jobs and grow economies.

To take action and join the global movement, please go to

The Happy Mother from Ocotillo

Yamileth Centeno Photo.JPG
UMCOR’s partnership with El Porvenir helped provide a “dignified” latrine for Yamileth Centeno’s family in Ocotillo, Nicaragua. Photo credit: El Porvenir.

Yamileth Centeno is a 35-year-old mother of two from Ocotillo, Nicaragua. She was born in the little farming village, about 16 kilometers (almost 10 miles) north of the town of Terrabona.

“I dreamt of being a doctor as a child, but I had to work from a very young age and was only able to go to school for three years,” Yamileth says. “At least I can read and write and I am so happy that I have my own humble house to live in with my children. My husband travels to Costa Rica every year to work, where he earned a bit of money and was able to build the house, but I didn’t have a latrine in my house; it is too expensive to build one.”

She tells us that in the past, the hygiene situation in the community was terrible. “We all defecated in the open, everyone had to go around hiding in the bushes always wondering if someone would see them,” Yamileth says. “We were always having diarrhea, parasites, and stomach pains. As time passed, two families built their own latrines, and there we went to defecate.” 

Yamileth and her family had also built their own latrine from black plastic and bits of wood. It did help the family hygiene, but it wasn’t enough, as the poor construction meant it was not a dignified latrine and did not eliminate disease. “It was an ugly latrine; we all used it because, well, never mind … It was not as bad as going out in the bush. It embarrassed us when people came to visit and they asked to use the bathroom. The truth is that sometimes I preferred to say that we didn’t have one, because it was so smelly and you could smell it well over to the neighbor’s house,” she says. 

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Children and youth in Ocotillo, Nicaragua, benefit from new latrines. Photo credit: El Porvenir.

When the community reached out to ask the local nonprofit, El Porvenir for help, a request was sent to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s (UMCOR’s) Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) program, and funds were granted to build latrines for Ocotillo. With the involvement of the entire community, 60 double-pit latrines were built. The community contributed 10 percent of the cost and the labor to benefit more than 60 families. 

“We feel happy with our latrine project and today I feel safer when I need to take care of my necessities. There is more hygiene, my house looks and smells better, as well as the entire community. I give thanks to God and to El Porvenir for helping us have clean and high quality latrines,” says Yamileth. “Also, I have learned so much from the training sessions on the use and maintenance of the latrines and how to live a clean life. I ask that El Porvenir and the donors (UMCOR) keep supporting us, and not just us, but also the other families in other communities that today don’t have a latrine like this one.”

UMCOR’s WASH program is supporting local partners that work with impoverished communities to develop safe water sources, improve their knowledge and practice of healthy behaviors, and find ways to improve sanitation. Every US$1 spent on water, sanitation, and hygiene generates US$4.30 in increased productivity and decreased health-care costs.

Support this work with your gift to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, Advance #3020600. 
UMCOR WASH is a part of the Abundant Health Initiative

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Facts about Toilets: 
• 2.4 billion people live without improved sanitation. (World Health Organization [WHO]/UNICEF, 2015)
• One in 10 people has no choice but to defecate in the open. (WHO/UNICEF 2015)
• Diarrhea caused by poor sanitation and unsafe water kills 315,000 children every year. (WASHwatch, 2016)
• Transmission of diseases due mostly to poor sanitation and hygiene practices, causes 17 percent of all workplace deaths. (International Labour Organization [ILO] 2003)

* Lorrie King, M.P.H., is WASH & food security program manager for UMCOR, General Board of Global Ministries.