from the electric newpaper
Mr Toilet's sitting pretty
He raises stink about dirty loos in S'pore.
Now Harvard wants to study his organisation, and National Geographic wants to feature it in a show.
By Leong Ching 18 October 2006
FLUSHED with success.
That's what you can say of Mr Jack Sim's work with toilets.
Mr Sim is the founder of the World Toilet Organisation (WTO). It is based in Singapore and has 47 members, including Japan, Britain and the US.
Some people used to laugh when his work with toilets was first written about. Well, he's having the last laugh now because:
National Geographic channel is to show a documentary on the WTO.
Harvard University is writing a case study on it.
And Mr Sim has been named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation of Switzerland, jointly with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.
Armed with a vision and a sense of humour, he works for good sanitation across the world, lobbying for funds to build toilets in developing countries.
Mr Sim said there are 2.6 billion people in the world who have no toilets.
'The story of Singapore's economic progress runs parallel to its toilet development,' he said.
'From no toilets to disgusting toilets... to professional restroom specialists. Singapore is the model for the world to follow.'
And now, Mr Sim's story will be made into a documentary and shown worldwide next year.
Earlier this year, Mr Sim got a call from local documentary maker Viswa Sadasivan of The Right Angle.
Mr Sadasivan told him they were pitching the idea of a documentary on the WTO to National Geographic Channel and asked if he was game.
The veteran journalist and the crusading toilet builder met and took a few months to put together a pitch, which convinced the channel that it was worth funding.
Said Mr Sadasivan: 'I found Jack to be a man of exceptional foresight with the courage to confront a dirty issue... a global revolutionary in his own right.'
More recently, Harvard University got in touch with Mr Sim to say it wants to write a case study about the WTO. Mr Sim, who owns a building materials company with a turnover of $10 million a year, laughs along when anyone makes a joke about taking toilets as seriously as he does.
After all, he knows that a bit of 'toilet humour' is sometimes the best way to get people interested in the subject.
And for that, he has Thailand's Mr Mechai Viravaidya, - better known as Mr Condom - to thank.
Mr Mechai, who chairs the Population and Community Development Association of Thailand, is famous for educating the public there about family planning and safe sex.
'Toilets, like condoms, are taboo. I reckoned that if he can do it with condoms, I should learn from him,' said Mr Sim. 'He taught me a very important lesson: Don't take yourself too seriously. People will laugh at you. You must laugh with them. And after that, they'll listen to your real messages.'
They became friends and Mr Mechai is now on the WTO advisory board.
Mr Sim's interest in toilets began around 1962, when he was growing up in a village in Lorong Ong Lye.
'My mother told me I was old enough to use the village common toilet. But I did not rejoice. The sanitation in our village worked on the bucket system,' he said.
'The bucket gets real ugly after breakfast and also those giant green houseflies were very annoying for a 5-year-old.'
He ended up using the chamber pot in the privacy of their house.
In 1996, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said: 'Let the cleanliness of our public toilets be a measurement of our social graciousness.'
Mr Sim said: 'I started asking myself many questions: Why do people behave badly in public toilets but not at home?
'I've always wanted to do volunteer work and thought, 'Perhaps the toilet is my calling!' Gradually, I decided to do something about it. I finally got the Restroom Association of Singapore officially registered in 1998.'
In 1999, he read in a Japanese magazine that there was a Japan Toilet Association, so he contacted the officers, who invited him to their Asia-Pacific Toilet Symposium in Kitakyushu.
'I asked them where was the world's HQ for discussing the toilet but was told there was none,' said Mr Sim.
And so he started the WTO, a non-profit organisation that aims to provide clean public toilets without additional stress on the environment.
It organises conferences, does research and runs disaster relief projects. Members are from restroom associations or like-minded bodies from around the world.
'I am so glad to be able to depart from the rat race, and to find peace with myself and the world,' said Mr Sim.
'Many people wish to do the same... Well, they should have a long think about it. It's no secret where I do my best thinking.'