When I was in the 5th grade, my parents and I moved to western Oklahoma. We lived in a little town of about 50, where children piled into their parents' cars to be driven 4 miles to the school--a one-room building in the middle of a wheat field--on a dirt road. During the winter, this road became frozen and, in the spring, muddy. Sometimes, it was so muddy that the family car couldn't make the trip - we had to be dropped off where the blacktop ended and trudge through the mud for the last mile of the journey instead. I still remember the sight of my little sister, who was in the 1st grade at the time, falling out of her oversize rubber boots as they got stuck in the mud. We picked her up and carried her for the final lap of the commute.
There was no plumbing in this school, so we had outdoor toilets - one for the girls, and one for the boys. Back in those days, there was one bathroom legend that always haunted us: That the boys were looking up at us through the hole in the toilet. As I look back on it now, of course, it was totally unreasonable. But, as a child, the fear was very real. As a result, we always went to the toilet in pairs, with one standing outside to keep the boys away.
I hadn't thought about this humorous scenario for years. But, at recent meeting of Faith Leaders in New York City, that changed. The meeting, hosted by the World Bank and the UN, was focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years, with much of the discussion highlighting the great need for the education of girls around the world - some 100 million are currently deprived of a proper education. This lack of opportunity is a major contributing factor to numerous issues facing today's women, such as human trafficking, violence, child marriages, early death, female genital mutilation and overall poverty.
On the surface, revamping the world's education system seems to be an overwhelming, impossible task. However, when you begin to break it down, there are many simple things that can be done to create tangible progress. The research presented at the meeting showed that many girls in the developing world who start school quit due to the lack of toilets on campus. Boys, on the other hand, will go to the bathroom in the bush -- girls cannot. And, for those girls who do manage to stay in school despite the toilet situation, puberty becomes the next, more dangerous obstacle to overcome. This is when they then get sold for marriage, trafficking or some other indignity.
I thought of the schools that have been funded by our churches and individuals. Have we required that there be toilets for both girls and boys on the grounds? And, if we have, are they toilets that are ventilated and keep out the flies? These are known as VIP toilets: Ventilated Improved Property.
In addition to the bathroom issues facing schoolgirls, some entire villages have no toilets at all - only simple open pit latrines. In many of these villages, women will not use the latrines during the day, instead trying to go out at night. As was described in this meeting by a woman from India, "women are very fearful of animals and men that act like animals when they try to go to the latrines at night."
Due to these toilet deficiencies, women in these villages are not only forced to live in fear of going to the bathroom, but also must face legitimate danger when performing a basic bodily function. That is unacceptable. We must start recognizing toilets as an issue facing the developing world, and begin to install VIP toilets alongside every new well (figuratively, of course).
I am grateful that, as I write this, wells are being drilled and VIP toilets are being built across Sierra Leonean and West African schools because of the recent generosity of donors to World Hope International. As a result, we will see the rise of young women who are educated and able to realize their God given potential. This is about "overcoming evil with good" as the Apostle Paul writes.