Jasmine Burton's SafiChoo toilet could make a huge impact on sanitation, health, and education in the developing world, thanks to empathic design.
It might be hard to believe, but just the fact that you know where the nearest toilet is at any given moment, and that you have access to it, puts you clearly in the category of being privileged. While access to basic sanitation, such as a safe and secure toilet facility, isn't nearly as exciting as owning the latest iWhatever, it's still a rarity for billions of our fellow humans, who are faced with the prospect of open defecation as the normal state of affairs, as well as the very real possibility of having their health endangered due to fecal-oral contamination and disease.
It's estimated that about 2.5 billion people still lack access to adequate sanitation facilities, and instead of having a safe and clean environment for taking care of their bodily wastes, are forced to rely on the most primitive of toilets, such as a hole in the ground, or poorly designed and maintained latrines. These conditions are complicit in the deaths of some 4,000 children each and every day from preventable water- and sanitation-related diseases, and that's not accounting for the mental and emotional stress that comes from having to resort to open defecation, nor the huge impact that lack of toilets has on education, especially for girls and women.
One organization that is working to make a difference when it comes to sanitation is a startup out of Georgia, called Wish for WASH, led by founder Jasmine Burton and her team of 'visioneers,' who have developed a unique toilet appliance that could be a cornerstone of community-led solutions to water- and hygiene-related disease in the developing world.
Burton and her partners took top honors for their "SafiChoo" toilet at Georgia Tech's 2014 InVenture competition, and thanks to that prize money, were able to run a pilot program with their innovation at Kenya's Kakuma Refugee Camp, where their findings enabled the team to further improve the product based on real-world application. And now they're looking to the crowd to help further their goal of establishing a beta pilot program in Lusaka, Zambia with an Indiegogo campaign intended to underwrite the costs of traveling to Zambia as well as the manufacture and shipping of at least two units to be installed there (more units will be sent depending on how much financial backing the campaign receives).
One of the major differences in the SafiChoo, as compared with many other sanitation devices, is that it uses a modular design, which allows communities to choose the configuration that best meets their own cultural needs, whether it's squatting vs sitting or washing vs wiping.
"The Safi Choo is an inexpensive, mobile toilet that lowers fecal-oral contamination and reduces stress on the body while maintaining the cultural practices of squatting and anal cleansing, in order to bring relief to refugees in the developing world."
This aspect of the product's design is an example of what Burton calls 'empathic design,' which she very eloquently lays out in this talk she delivered at TEDxAtlanta earlier this year:
For more information about the work of Wish for WASH, as well as resources about sanitation inequality, at the website. And if you're on the fence about whether or not to support this worthy project, just remember that you don't see toilet-shaped mugs or poop-shaped coffee mugs with a pithy saying on them nearly often enough, and that you can get one by backing the SafiChoo project.