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Toilets matter in a van, and Malawi

I have been obsessed by toilets for the last couple of weeks.

I have been suffering from an unmentionable complaint in my nether regions, which would be hard enough to manage in a house, with a WC that flushes with ease and hot water that runs 24 hours a day.

In a van, with a cassette toilet – basically a portable loo which empties into a plastic box – and limited hot water, life has been that bit more, well, challenging.

But thanks to copious amounts of Italian nappy rash cream and French anti-bacterial gel, I am slowly healing.

People in rich countries don’t appreciate how lucky we are with our state of the art bathrooms and sewage systems that flush away our waste at the press of a button. Even our campervans have flushing loos, albeit that bit more basic.

But 40 per cent of the world’s population don’t have access to a flushing toilet.

And UNICEF reckon that more than half the schools in low-income countries do not have toilets for their students.

One such school is Mapalo Primary School in Malawi. A month ago a heavy rainstorm destroyed their old toilet block and since then the 700 boys and girls have been forced to use an emergency pit latrine, with only some plastic sheets for privacy.

The school cannot afford to build a new set of toilets. The local council has no funds. Literally. And the parents need every kwacha to feed their children. There is nothing to spare.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, so when an emergency like this happens, communities depend on the generosity of strangers to help them, or they do without.

The local councillor Imedi Issa Jafali was desperate to help, but had no access to funds either, so he posted a plea on Facebook, which I saw.

I must register an interest here. I have been visiting Malawi, for work, since 2005, and Issa is one of the 460 councillors that my colleague Danny and I have trained in the last two years.

The plight of the girls at Mapalo school having to go to the toilet in a hole in the ground, open to the elements, struck a chord with me, and I set up a Just Giving appeal to raise money for new school toilets.

My original target was a pound for every child – £700, and thanks to the generosity of friends and strangers, we have raised nearly £1,200, with £830 through Just Giving, and other donations coming in directly.

But the cost of six toilets is going to be around £1,500 so we still need another £300. You can donate here.

I will cover all administration costs, including the bank fees to transfer the money, so every penny donated will go directly to building the toilets. And I am going to Malawi in late June, so will be able to report back on progress.

The local community has set up a management committee to oversee the build, and work on digging out the foundations has already begun.

All the boys and girls of Mapalo Primary School need now is a little help from you. Thanks.

Read about the state of the world’s toilets here.

Find out more about Malawi here and discover its wild beauty here.

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