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Celebrating World Toilet Day

Hot+chocolate+was+offered+in+free+ceramic+toilet-shaped+mugs%2C+which+attendees+could+take+home+as+a+souvenir+from+the+event.
Fiona Aulenta
Hot chocolate was offered in free ceramic toilet-shaped mugs, which attendees could take home as a souvenir from the event.
Fiona Aulenta

On the afternoon of Nov. 19, 2023, friends, family, students and professionals involved in a variety of water science and sanitation-related fields gathered in front of the Ventura College (VC) Environmental/Construction Technology building to celebrate World Toilet Day.

Across the lawn stood toilet-themed event stations and information booths, along with a grazing table of chocolate treats and various drinks. Framed with fun light-hearted activities, the porcelain holiday provides an opportunity to learn about local and global sanitation. 

Mary Woo, associate professor of water science at the college, organized the family-friendly event. “It’s to raise awareness,” she explains, “so that we know where help is needed … and it uses humor to do it.” Among the festivities were games like pin the lever on the toilet, guess the toilet paper brand, toilet trivia bingo and cornhole. A food and drink table featured ceramic toilet-shaped mugs for hot chocolate alongside brownie bites, chocolate meringues and cupcakes.

[We] want to make people comfortable to talk about an uncomfortable topic.

— Mary Woo

Accompanying the games was an array of toilet and poop-themed prizes such as stickers, pens, bathroom signs and a golden toilet mug. Several booths displayed informational pamphlets, diagrams and business cards of local water science-related organizations and members. 

World Toilet Day is an international day of observance recognized by the United Nations. “[It’s] worse than people in America realize,” John Lindquist comments, a senior hydrogeologist at United Water, “we’ve had such good sanitation here [in America] for over a century.” Walking into the bathroom, you don’t think twice about flushing the toilet or turning the sink on.

Pictured above is a game station where blindfolded attendees spun around and attempted to pin the lever on the toilet for a poop pen, sticker or keychain as a prize. (Fiona Aulenta)

However, these small actions are a privilege. “Outside of the Western world, people really are experiencing it,” Woo says. “Here we’re just so lucky … we flush our toilet and we don’t think much about it.”

Yet there are 3.5 billion people globally who don’t have access to a safe toilet and 2 billion people without basic handwashing available. Unsafe water and hygiene are responsible for high mortality in children under age five. “Most people don’t understand just how difficult access to clean water is for many parts of the world,” department chair and associate professor of agriculture at VC Dorothy Farias mentions, “we still haven’t achieved that equity.”

The global issue is also relevant locally, despite being fortunate enough to benefit from safe water sanitation practices. “We have nitrate contamination in groundwater,” Lindquist states as a potential result of past hazardous sanitation practices, like septic system waste making its way into groundwater. “There’s certainly been a nitrate problem that still exists in the Ventura area,” he adds.

Attendees of all ages play toilet trivia bingo, learning various historical toilet facts along the way. (Fiona Aulenta)

“A lot of people don’t understand what they can’t see,” Richard Martin offers, assistant general manager of water operations for Ventura Water. “We’ve seen people using less water per capita per day, and that’s great but…do people really, really fully get it? I don’t think so,” Martin concludes. “It’s great to have events like [World Toilet Day] that raises that awareness.” Something as simple as turning the tap on or using the bathroom can never be taken for granted. 

While the holiday may seem silly at first glance, the goal of World Toilet Day, and one of the main goals of the United Nations, is to ensure safe sanitation practices and clean water for everyone. “We’re on track, in that we’re making progress,” Farias emphasizes, “we have to see that the progress is happening … we have to take the wins when we can and keep working towards progress.”

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About the Contributors
Layla Solomon, Writer
Women love me, fish fear me.
Fiona Aulenta, Videographer
“I make bad decisions frequently. They're fun.” - SZA

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