When lives depend on a toilet, this is how we restore dignity


The right to access safe and hygienic toilets is fundamental. Yet pit latrines are still the only sanitary facilities in thousands of schools across South Africa. This puts learners’ health and lives at risk. Children have died either by the structures collapsing on them or from falling into the waste. When yet another child lost their life last year, the government pledged to take action. But for Helene Bramwell, it was too late. “I was incensed,” she says. No child should die going to the bathroom. Rather than wait for change, Bramwell launched a campaign that’s restoring their dignity.

In 2018, Bramwell founded the Donate-a-Loo Schools Project to raise funds for functional toilets. The initiative has since supplied six Enviro Loos each to Durban Deep and Paradise Bend Primary Schools in Gauteng. Previously, both had unsanitary chemical toilets. Girls would catch infections from using them. If these toilets were clogged, students were forced to go home and miss class. The new lavatories are safe and environmentally friendly, requiring no water or electricity. They also include hand sanitisers and toilet rolls. With a lifespan of 50 years, the Enviro Loos can be used until a permanent sanitary system is established. 

Brightly-painted, the improved facilities are a source of pride for the learners. Students now feel safe in their environment, and can focus on their education. “The young are the future of South Africa,” Bramwell says. “We have to treat them with respect.” The 12 toilets that she’s implemented are just the start. If people take action, more children can benefit from dignity and health. It can even save lives. “One toilet will do the trick,” Bramwell says.

Nuraan Shaik