The lack of access to clean and safe toilets is a serious global problem. According to UN data, 4.3 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, still live without safely managed sanitation and 673 million practice open defecation.
Untreated human waste spreads diseases in water and food leading to 432.000 diarrhoeal deaths every year. Young people and women are particularly affected by the problem. 297,000 children under the age of five die from diarrhoea each year because of sanitation-related issues. Girls miss school during their menstrual period as they don’t have access to adequate toilets. Women can be more vulnerable to abuse and sexual assault because they have to go outside to defecate, often when it’s dark. And the list goes on.
But if the problem is serious, it doesn’t mean that the solution can’t be sprinkled with some humor. Enter Jack Sim aka “Mr. Toilet.”
Mr. Sim is a 62-year-old Singaporean businessman who gave up a successful career in real estate to fight the global sanitation crisis weaponizing toilet humor. “My goal is to transform poo culture into pop culture,” he quips in the documentary Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man, a new film dedicated to his life and mission.
What clearly emerges from the documentary is that Jack Sim does “give a s**t” about the problem he’s tackling, possesses an innate ability to attract media attention and has a distinct knack for scatological puns.
In 2001, he set up the “World Toilet Organization,” a nonprofit to help him spread his message. He also declared the 19th of November—the day in which he founded the charity—“World Toilet Day,” an occasion to celebrate sanitation and its essential role in human life. In his own words, it was a way to “put a crown on the toilet throne.”
Twelve years later, the UN added the celebration to its list of official International Days (in the documentary, Jack Sim gleefully recalls when he convinced the Russian ambassador who wanted to euphemistically call it “World Hygiene Day”) and, in 2015, the end of open defecation became one of the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets.
But the fight to solve the global sanitation crisis is far from over and that’s why World Toilet Day is still a fundamental occasion to break the silence surrounding this topic, promote latrine use and raise funds to build new facilities for those who need it the most.
A few years ago, The Economist touted the toilet as “one of the world’s most useful inventions”. Yet, billions of people don’t have access to it or aren’t aware of its importance.
Shedding a light on this basic human right—breaking stigma and taboos along the way—is Jack Sim’s happy crusade, a crucial campaign powered by a wardrobe of costumes ranging from Game of Thrones to Super Mario and loads of poop-themed gags.
“When I switched to social work, my business colleagues said that I was making a joke of myself,” he says in Mr.Toilet, “but then I realized that if you’re able to laugh at yourself and to make people laugh, then they will pay attention to you.”
Credit header image: MR TOILET: THE WORLD’S #2 MAN