College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota
College of Science and Engineering

"Smile you are at Sulabh."

As you can verify with the other students, I have been unable to control my excitement for today's planned activities for the past week. Today was finally the day we were going to the Sulabh International Toilet Museum. With images of a 2 year-old girl defecating on the sidewalk and numerous men and women relieving themselves on the side of a busy road ingrained in my memory, in addition to mastering my "favorite" games of human waste minesweeper and "human or animal?" scat identification during many roadside walks, I boarded the bus anxious to learn more about Sulabh's current efforts to address open defecation in India.


Arriving at the facility, we were warmly welcomed by the founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organization, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak (A.K.A. the Gandhi of Sanitation). Sulabh is an organization that focuses on promoting environmental sanitation practices and improving the lives of the manual scavenger community. At Sulabh, we toured the school and training center that provides the education and skills needed for improving the livelihood of children and young adults who would otherwise be stuck with a pre-determined life of scavenging and cleaning-up waste.


I am convinced that our tour guide at the museum thought he was auditioning for the Indian version of Mythbusters as a film crew followed our every reaction to uncovering the truth behind toilets throughout history. Spoiler Alert: Do not believe what you hear about the infamous Mr. Thomas Crapper. Viewing many zany toilets and pictures of toilets and urinals (such as shark head urinals in China and a toilet-trained elephant), we learned how important humor is in addressing and educating others about such a taboo topic. Additionally, we briefly learned about the variety of toilet infrastructure that Sulabh develops to help Indians gain access to improved sanitation.


We ended the morning with a celebration of the work completed by the students of the training school. Not even a visiting children's theater group from Finland, performing a "uniquely Scandavian" play about the effects of urbanization on divorce dramatized through the use of a baby's nightmare where a teapot and sugar cubes turn violent, could upstage the talented young dancers, designers, and beauticians. Leaving the facility, we were once again reminded by signs to "Smile you are at Sulabh." With such joy and optimism present on the campus, cultivated by revered leader Dr. Pathak, how could you not?


-Nathan Warner


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