Letters to the editor.

Today’s mailbox: Hands of Hope, the quilt of poppies

Toilets are important

Ed. note: Hands of Hope is a Whitehorse-based non-profit focused on providing basic necessities to kids in India and Nepal.

Flourishing a shawl, Rosemarie created an instant toilet, albeit not totally private. We’d travelled non-stop for hours. Men were lined up, backs to the bus facing the jungle. It was most apparent this was a toilet spot, for men. Apparently, women’s bladders are limitless!

We’d completed some Hands of Hope work — checking in with schools and Tibetan refugees — in northern India and were on our way to Delhi. From there we’d undertake a 30 hour trip to Nepal to see the students that are being funded and the school we built. It was just another routine trip with it’s challenges we’d come to expect but not totally accept.

Over the years India and Nepal has always desperately lacked toilets and latrines. That’s why we were so gobsmacked when India and Nepal announced an Open Defecation Free (ODF) status in October, 2019. ODF means people use toilets, not fields, open spaces, water or the forest to defecate. So what was I missing here? It was late October. It was the jungle. No toilet signs in sight. Our bus was standing still. Hmm, I mused, this is no different from a samosa or chai shop owner jerking his thumb at the back door of the shop repeating “open, open.” And you can bet it’s open. There’s a field with scrub bushes, or a rice field walkway, or the bullock cart down an alley, or just a flat spot behind a building. As for the fabled toilets: they’re often unhygienic, unsafe and unreachable. Is it any different now? We don’t know. Often programs begin well, but then something, like COVID-19, derails it.

In 2019, the political leaders of both India and Nepal touted their toilet building drive. That doesn’t mean that it looked the same on paper as on the ground. For example, many toilets were constructed, in the Rama Krishna Puram area of Delhi. There’s one community toilet with 10 latrines for 800 people. India may have built 110 million toilets in the last few years but far less than half were for public use. So travelling around Delhi a woman must continue to hold on and hold in. In Nepal, since the 2015 earthquake, the majority of rebuilt schools have not included toilets in their plans. What’s that all about?

Toilets, or the lack, keep girls home from school, especially when they reach puberty. Usually, boys can find a place to urinate, but for girls it becomes more complicated. So they stay home. At home, in rural India or Nepal, women and girls head into the forest or the rice field for the morning toilet. That can be dangerous. Women are at risk of assault and rape. And it’s not uncommon to read reports of rape in the rice field.

The price of building a basic toilet is between $100 and $250 Canadian depending on whether it’s in India or Nepal. This is prohibitive. A basic income can start as low as $50 a month. A cash-strapped householder or farmer can’t afford this. Programs to pay a person to build a toilet aren’t always forthcoming with the cash. There are other priorities too, as in putting rice on the table and keeping children in school. COVID-19 has increased costs, with inflated food prices. Finding school fee rupees as schools try to reopen isn’t easy.

If you’ve never used a squat toilet or any toilet, how do you use one? What’s the tap or the can of water on the side for? What do you do once you’ve defecated or urinated?

A school toilet is often not considered an important component in designing a school. In the past, we’ve recommended toilets to some rural Nepal headmasters. “No. Why use one?” The exception: the school we built in southern Nepal. Most children there had no idea how or why to use a toilet. They soon learned. Their toilet was the rice fields walkways of the terai. Women crept out early, or late, when no one was watching. Children and staff of Lumbini Gyan Prabha school had to learn about toilets. Obviously, without undressing, the progressive Headmaster demonstrated the process of squatting to use the squat toilet and the use of water to flush. Then he demonstrated the cleaning process. Amid serious faces and much chatter and giggling, girls and boys learned toilet protocol. They were astonished to find separate toilets for boys and girls, too! Then they were told they must go to the central water pump to wash with hand soap and water. The world talks and writes about human rights, about gender equality, about developing nations. What kind of equality is there when a young girl cannot attend school because of a lack of a hygienic and safe toilet?

What kind of equality is there when a woman can’t find a toilet in a city or needs to hold on for hours until a bus stops where there might be a toilet? Maybe a toilet should be a basic human right, right in there with education. Since 2006, we’ve certainly felt that way when wending our way through India and Nepal. We’ll see what the future will hold.

For the more complete story of the work of Hands of Hope please go to: hands-of-hope.ca or facebook.com/booksandbasics

We are currently accepting donations to keep children in school and children and elders fed during this difficult time.

Liesel Briggs


The quilt of many poppies

Joseph Novak is a World War ll Veteran and possibly the last in the Yukon who served overseas. Joe moved into Whistle Bend Place early this year and has delighted co-residents and staff with his passionate story-telling, unshakable love of music and sure-fire gratitude for life.

In October of last year, Joe was gifted a seven by seven foot Quilt of Valour in acknowledgment and appreciation for his service. The quilt is immaculately stitched together in patches of detailed poppy flowers and leaves by quilter extraordinaire Lee Hugh. Joe has been striving to have this piece displayed in a public location since he first received it: “I want as many people to see it as possible. I want them to remember those who fought in the war, those who never came home.”

Joe’s dream was to have the quilt displayed in the Whitehorse General Hospital or a government building – but soon after he moved in to WBP, the idea of putting it up on the wall of Whistle Bend became more and more attractive.

Once the ball started rolling, it never stopped. Cynthia Onions, Supervisor of Recreation and Psychosocial Services, walked with Joe around the building to scope out where the quilt could go — they found the “perfect spot” and soon after lift equipment was rented to reach the high and mighty chosen location. On April 7th, 2021, Todd, facility maintenance, secured himself to the scissor lift and blasted off to install the quilt while Joe kept a proud watch: “It’s perfect, you did a terrific job and I couldn’t be happier.”

Thank you Joe, for sharing this very special gift with everyone who lives, works and visits Whistle Bend Place. We hope everyone will look at it and be reminded of their freedom, due to the sacrifices made by those who served in war.

Julia Mertz


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