Featured User (13) of March 2016: Carol McCreary from the United States

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Featured User (13) of March 2016: Carol McCreary from the United States


The SuSanA secretariat is very pleased to introduce our featured user of March 2016 (previous featured users can be found here: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/145-featured-users ): Carol McCreary from the United States who works at the all-volunteer advocacy group PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Let Us Stay Human).

Carol is a very early member, who started being part of the SuSanA community in January 2009. Since then, she is an important pillar of the forum, who has until today written 101 posts, which were appreciated by 58 likes. For example, recently she posted about: The SuSanA secretariat is also very thankful for her important role as a leader of working group 9 on Public Awareness, Advocacy and Civil Society Engagement. Her user profile can be found at forum.susana.org/forum/profile/userid-125 .

The interest of Working Group 9 is the core of Carol's passion concerning sanitation. She believes that toilet availability is a human right and a precondition for physical and mental health and critizes that public toilets are far too rare and are given too little attention.

Below the picture of Carol (together with Jack Sim) you will find the first part of an interview with Carol McCreary, part 2 and 3 will follow shortly. Carol also provided us with an audio interview carried out by KPLU interviewer Gabriel Spitzer in June 2015. The topic of this audio is simply "toilets" and Carol can be heard here www.kplu.org/post/sound-effect-episode-24-toilets from minutes 22 to 31.

Thank you, Carol!



Carol with Jack Sim at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair of the Gates Foundation in 2012


Part 1: About Carol as a person and her work

1. You registered with SuSanA on 24 January 2009. Do you remember what made you join the network then?
I’m a big SuSanA fan and depend on the library. I was interested from the first mention of global Forum where experts, practitioners and curious newcomers could communicate and access to these exchanges would be free, open respectful and searchable.

2. What is your nationality and where do you live currently? Have you lived somewhere else before? Where and why – if relevant?
I’m a United States citizen and live in the Pacific Northwest. I recently moved from Portland, Oregon to Port Townsend, Washington, which is halfway between Victoria, British Columbia and Seattle.
I’ve lived and worked overseas about half my life: Morocco, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, and Tunisia. Eighteen months in Switzerland and France during my studies meant I didn’t have to struggle with French when I arrived on the job.

3. What and where did you study, and why? Which further trainings were important for your career?
I went to high school and college in the 1960s and got swept up in the social justice movements of the time. So I studied History and missed out on science. Now I find myself pushing young people toward STEM (science, math, engineering and technology.)

After college I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Morocco to teach English in a secondary school. My students were quick learners and able to orient me to their country and to their personal realities and dreams. During the summer breaks, I volunteered with larger NGOs on projects that took me to a number of informal settlements.

Sanitation was not a priority for me then, however. In fact, I was impressed with the Moroccan culture of handwashing, with café sinks visible to everyone and hosts who bring soap, towel and warm water to wash the hands of guests around the table. I loved the warm, clean, inexpensive public baths. And Moroccan friends taught me things my mother had missed, such as washing an egg before cracking it or a melon before cutting it.

I got an MA at the American University in Cairo and continued to teach English and academic skills in schools, universities and professional programs until a group of professionals in Yemen set me on new path. My job with USAID was to orient them to PhD study in the U.S. As I learned about their specialties and jobs, I realized I was ready for a career change. So in 1991 I got an M.S. in Development Management at the American University in Washington DC.

The most valuable course I’ve taken? Planning & Design of Sanitation Systems and Technologies, the online course taught by Christoph Luthi and colleagues at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, with its powerful mix of technical and planning tools.

4. What were your main employers, work locations or career milestones?
With husband, kids, and fresh degree, I moved to Pakistan and joined a local consulting firm that wanted to get into development work. We worked with government agencies, NGOs, and grassroots organizations all over the country and moved into areas HIV/AIDS and gender. After that I continued to work with other bilateral and UN agencies and NGOs.

All this time, I was toilet blind. I remember writing modules for a Unicef program to train 300,000 Pakistani Boy Scouts to treat babies with diarrhea during their summer holidays. Boys aged 10 to 12 were the only people with access to purdah-observing mothers in their villages. But there was no talk of toilets. Poor sanitation was taken as a given.

In 2006, while organizing a conference in Uganda, I met dynamic, brave HIV-positive activists who had “come out” and were mentoring peers back in their villages. At the time, home-based care was all the rage, but I still noticed a lack of awareness of toilets of the Ugandan government.
My personal wake up call was the World Toilet Summit in Delhi in 2007. But although it was the International Year of Sanitation the next year, USAID and the Ugandan government were still silent on sanitation, home-based or otherwise. Generalized toilet blindness.

5. What has been the most challenging situation you have faced professionally?
Among my duties on the staff of the World Food Program for Afghanistan in the mid 1990s was Gender Advisor. With the other UN agencies we brought professional women from all over the country together just as the Taliban started to close girls’ schools. A strong network was established and these women were able to set up home-based schools and support one another as they moved “underground” when Kabul fell to the Taliban. These women inspired my dedication to networks of grassroots action.

6. Or what are the three “things” that are really important for you in practical terms?
My bicycle. It gets me where I need to go and accompanies me on busses and ferries. My tiny 700 lumen flashlight which fits my bike helmet, my bike, my pockets and my handbag. My cell phone. So good to no longer be stuck at a desk!

7. What books or magazines can be found on your bedside table?
Naomi Klein’s "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate", selected for our town’s annual Community Read. Our library bought hundreds of copies and we’ve organized many events to get people talking about the book. And the spring issue Yes!, a magazine of practical ideas for action and accessible science writing, particularly on climate change.

8. What are your hobbies?
Sailing the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast to Alaska with my husband every summer. We used to hike but since Jack’s bike accident and spinal cord injury, he can’t walk. So getting our own small boat and learning to sail was the easiest and most delightful way to experience the wilderness. And I love to write about our adventures. Forum friends are welcome to follow along on Baggywrinkles Blog. baggywrinkles.wordpress.com/

9. Do you have a personal slogan or a motto that keeps you motivated at all times?
Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH)

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Re: Featured User of March 2016: Carol McCreary from the United States

Dear Carol,

It's so great to have you as featured user for March - very interesting to read the first part of your interview. I can't wait for Parts 2 and 3 to follow soon.

I think your career development is particularly interesting - e.g. for young people just starting out in their career and wondering how to get into WASH.

One thing I didn't quite understand, were you working for USAID and UNICEF as a freelance consultant or as permanent staff? And how did you end up with working at the "all-volunteer advocacy group PHLUSH". Did you create the organization PHLUSH? If it's all volunteer then how do you get a salary or are you already (semi-)retired (unless this question is too personal)? (maybe this will be part of Part 2 of the interview)

Do you think this "toilet blindness" still exists now in those circles that you used to move in, or have things changed? Is there more awareness nowadays do you think?

I am referring to this part:

We worked with government agencies, NGOs, and grassroots organizations all over the country and moved into areas HIV/AIDS and gender. After that I continued to work with other bilateral and UN agencies and NGOs.

All this time, I was toilet blind. I remember writing modules for a Unicef program to train 300,000 Pakistani Boy Scouts to treat babies with diarrhea during their summer holidays. Boys aged 10 to 12 were the only people with access to purdah-observing mothers in their villages. But there was no talk of toilets. Poor sanitation was taken as a given.


Regards,
Elisabeth

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum via SEI project ( www.susana.org/en/resources/projects/details/127 )

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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Re: Featured User of March 2016: Carol McCreary from the United States

Dear SuSanA members,

As promised, here is the next part of the interview with our Featured User Carol McCreary! Take some minutes for reading about Carol’s interests and thoughts on sanitation and her objectives for WG9!

Part 2: Carol’s interests and thoughts on sanitation

1. Where do you work now and what does your organization do? How is it funded?

PHLUSH is an acronym for Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human, where I manage the program and support a team of very talented people. Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking disaster with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

PHLUSH started ten years ago when six of us at a meeting in Portland (Oregon) volunteered to study options for increasing the availability for visitors, workers, transit riders, and homeless people in our neighborhood. Our report got the attention of the Mayor who called us to participate on his Restroom Task Force, with staff and a budget. While several older restrooms were renovated and opened, we saw the need for a sidewalk toilet. The City’s now famous Portland Loo eventually evolved from rough drawings done in grassroots design workshops.

Then we got interested in emergency sanitation. By 2011, geologists were publishing clear evidence that Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquakes had devastated our region every few hundred years. The last occurred on January 26,1700, long before European settlement of the Pacific Northwest. The geological evidence is confirmed in the oral histories of Native Peoples and the dated accounts of “an orphan tsunami” by Japanese historians of that era.

As experts in emergency preparation went into action, PHLUSH struggled to find ways that households in vertical neighborhoods could prepare for a pipe-breaking disaster. Finally a simple solution came from Christchurch, New Zealand, where an earthquake earlier the same year had disabled their sewer system. We proposed the twin buckets – one for pee and one for poo – to Portland’s emergency managers, who endorsed the system. Since then we’ve had the opportunity to train hundreds of people in a number of local jurisdictions about urine separation and contained systems.

Until recently our administrative support was provided through Neighbors West-Northwest, a coalition of twelve Portland neighborhoods. Now that our disaster sanitation efforts have spread to the earthquake vulnerable coastal areas of Washington State and British Columbia and we work on public toilet availability with all over North America, PHLUSH is incorporating as an independent nonprofit.

2. You have recently become lead of the SuSanA WG9. What are your plans for WG9? In what kind of activities would you like to get the WG9 involved? Why are the topics of WG9 important?

The topics of Working Group 9 are Public Awareness, Advocacy and Civil Society Engagement. I would like to see WG9 make it easier for sanitation professionals everywhere to engage communities in talking about the universal need of humans to urinate and defecate. I remain amazed at the taboos that constrain these discussions! As I see it, the strength of these taboos has been underestimated and contributed to many past failures. These taboos take different forms in different cultures and within cultures there are huge differences among Individuals. We need to listen and respect people’s reluctance. We need to find ways to make them comfortable so planning can be productive. And if they really don’t want to be involved we need to get their assent for the greater good and excuse them. Our Public Toilet Advocacy Toolkit suggests ways to Engage the Community in the Conversation and move life-changing sanitation systems onto the public policy agenda.

I hope that members of Working Group 9 will share experiences and research on topics such as the following: the choice of words and terminology to use in a given community; images, video, art and theatre; and social media. I’m especially interested in hearing about their techniques for participatory needs assessment, planning, project design, resource mobilization, monitoring and evaluation so that communities and households have a profound sense of “ownership” of their sanitation systems.

3. Do you have examples of successful public awareness campaigns? And why did they work?

Let’s look at the success of Jack Sim and the World Toilet Organization. Jack paved the way for all of us. Few public officials will start conversations about toilets unless there is a group of bold, articulate, informed citizens are backing them up. So work done by ordinary people at the grassroots is vital. As Jack says, “If we had not legitimized the toilet subject and turned it from a dirty word into a clean word, I think it would have been very difficult for a politician to do that.”

While Jack Sim uses humor very effectively, many of us are serious and straight-talking. But still people laugh at us! So we smile back and we relax and they relax and we start to communicate.

It’s very difficult for people to talk publically about incontinence or the humiliation of “an accident” but when they do, it’s very powerful. Everyone can personally identify with them and feel their pain. The Crohn’s and colitis groups have gotten attention with this sort of testimony.

People for Fairness Coalition is composed of homeless people who speak out about their toilet needs and use good research to support their appeals for social justice to the Washington DC City Council. Members of the group demonstrated that they could access toilets in restaurants and businesses if they were well dressed but be denied access if they “looked homeless.”

The grassroots group Cambridge Advocates for a Common Toilet is led by students of Christian theology at Harvard Divinity School in support of unhoused neighbors who needed a toilet. Cambridge ACT simply asked, “Where would Jesus go?” Their successful campaign resulted in the city’s recent installation of a new Portland Loo in Harvard Square.

4. What kind of research topics are needed in the sanitation field?

PHLUSH would like to see a culture of citizen science spread through the global sanitation community. Everyone eats. Everyone excretes. Civic engagement and citizen science alike are empowering. The twin approaches can mean faster research and development, more effective implementation and more sustainable results.

Wikipedia defines the citizen scientist as 'a member of the general public who engages in scientific work, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.' Nonscientists ask questions, collect data according to agreed protocols and help interpret the results.

At PHLUSH we’re trying to identify the best non-sewered technologies for use at the household and neighborhood levels. Since Americans are not used to being without toilets, engaging them in designing and managing alternative systems is essential education. Imagine, for example, groups of four to six households pre-thinking their sanitation needs following a pipe-breaking seismic event. With inoperable transportation systems they will need to stock supplies. With the risk of epidemic so acute, a container-based system with urine separation makes sense. But how many containers will they need? Where will they store them? What other supplies are needed? When the buckets are full what will they do with them? If neighborhood composting facilities make sense, where should these be built? What materials are needed to build them? Are they available or must they be pre-positioned? How will treatment of feces be monitored? What equipment is needed? What test results would ensure safe reuse? Can we design a local sanitation system that strengthens local food production?

Introduced on the Forum by Dr. Meena Nair of the Participatory Governance Research Group is an ongoing Bangalore-based project http://forum.susana.org/forum/categories/142-government-as-a-driver/15328-improving-consumer-voices-and-accountability-in-a-rural-sanitation-programme-in-india-swachh-bharat-mission-public-affairs-centre-bangalore-karnataka-india#15328 Among other participatory approaches, it uses citizen reporting to assess the construction and use patterns for household toilets, to set benchmarks, to monitor costs, and to ensure accountability. I look forward to learning more about this project and others like it.



The last part of the interview - part 3 - will follow soon!


Kind regards
Raphaela (on behalf of the SuSanA Secretariat)

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Re: Featured User of March 2016: Carol McCreary from the United States

Hi, Elisabeth,

I'm grateful to the Secretariat team for facilitating this honor and to you for your good questions, especially the ones about career paths and "getting into WASH."

Let's be clear: I am not a trained WASH professional.

I got into sanitation as a volunteer activist. Most everything I've learned has come through SuSanA and participation in several World Toilet Summits. There's room in sustainable sanitation for generalists. People need just enough temerity to speak out and energy to follow up on what needs to be done. Movements to address climate change are often too broad. It's important to drill down a little. Same for urban livability and human rights. For PHLUSH, it always comes back to the universal need for sustainable toilet systems.

Today my volunteer job is supporting a core PHLUSH team of ten, almost all of whom are mid-career professionals, only three of which have formal credentials in sanitation. We're still an all-volunteer organization but I didn't stress that because we partnered with SuSanA before organizations had to be of a certain size and budget. This week we were awarded support from a Seattle legal services nonprofit that sets up tax-exempt nonprofits in accordance with federal rules. This allows PHLUSH to bring in larger grants and work more effectively. Our 10-year history is here. www.phlush.org/our-work/

As for careers in WASH, they are suddenly so trendy! Doesn't this show progress toward the cure for "toilet blindness"? The field is very competitive. You need focused technical education, great analytical and cultural skills and a commitment to big challenges.

This said, I'm not sure how much room there is for development generalists who want to work outside their own cultures. If, anything, I was on the tail end of an older model. My Peace Corps service and an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language opened the way to a satisfying career in the developing world. After I got my MS in Development Management and moved over to community development, health, HIV/AIDS, it was always as part of a well-rounded team. The Unicef diarrhea job was though the Pakistan consulting firm I was with and the USAID job I mentioned was freelance. Today I hardly see myself as "retired" (though some people do) but rather doing work that really suits me.

Please let's continue the discussion of sanitation career paths. Forum members collectively understand opportunities, needs and constraints. In reply to a questions about what he would "recommend to youngsters from countries in the global North," Kris Makowka says, "This line of work is one where I feel it is quite difficult to start out in and there is a lot of (naive) competition that would (and does) work even for free. Don't get sucked into the endless unpaid "volunteer" or NGO home-office internship treadmill, which I know of by quite a few friends." forum.susana.org/forum/categories/145-fe...ser-krischan-makowka

While I agree with Kris on the internship treadmill and non-productive "volunteer jobs", voluntary action is a powerful place to start. Wherever you are, look around at people, communities, the environment. What are the unmet sanitation needs? How can they be addressed? Then commit to some voluntary study. All you need in the beginning is right here on the Forum.

Carol McCreary
Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH)
1240 W. Sims Way #59, Port Townsend, Washington 98368 USA

Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.
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Re: Featured User of March 2016: Carol McCreary from the United States

Very interesting read so far!

Regarding volunteering... yeah I guess it is more of an common misuse of the term. I myself did about 10 years of voluntary local emergency response while studying etc., but that wasn't done to get a job in the "sector" nor had it much to do with international cooperation. It might have helped me later on a bit here and there and it is definilty helpful to understand the organisational philosophy of my current employer (Red Cross), but this is really not what the question was about I think.

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Re: Featured User of March 2016: Carol McCreary from the United States

Dear Carol,

Congratulations for being featured user. I have really enjoyed reading your posts for a couple of years. I think this is really powerful to show that sustainable sanitation is also a sustainable solution for developped countries and even more when it is the US.

I remember reading about PHLUSH's project to collect urine from bars and cafes where people go after work and reuse is for agricultural/ornemental purpose. Was this project ever implemented ?

Kind regards,

Cécile

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Re: Featured User of March 2016: Carol McCreary from the United States

Time for the final part of the interview with Carol. This time, we asked Carol for her opinions and suggestions for the forum - Read here what features motivate her to participate on the platform and what she thinks could be improved:


Part 3: About Carol’s opinions about the SuSanA Forum

5. Do your colleagues or people in your network also use the forum?

The Forum allows our core PHLUSH team to participate in a vibrant sustainable sanitation community. The beauty of the Forum is that it brings together so many approaches under the broad sustainable sanitation umbrella. It’s also a very safe place. By this I mean an online space in which a student or anyone with basic curiosity can ask a question and get a personal response from experts. The special culture of the Forum community is collaborative and inclusive. It’s open source and different from business or academia although it generously serves both.

World Water Day on March 22 saw the launch of the UN World Water Development Report 2016 on Water and Jobs. (I wish it were called the UN Sanitation and Water Development Report because sanitation is first, more fundamental, and without it water doesn’t have a chance.) What’s important is that there are 1.5 billion of us in water-related sectors. Adequate quantity and quality of water changes workers' lives and livelihoods and transforms societies and economies – and is impossible without sustainable sanitation. We need to invite more of these 1.5 billion fellow workers to use the library and join this Forum.

PHLUSH is a proud SuSanA partner but our team has found that most people we talk to don’t know about it or about the Forum. So we’re starting to tell everyone. In fact, I’ve just added these lines with embedded links to my PHLUSH email signature block:
Partner of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance. www.susana.org/en/ Join the SuSanA Forum. forum.susana.org/


6. Which topics or categories on the forum do you feel most passionate about?

The provision of toilets for those who have none. PHLUSH is addressing the needs of people who will have none following the predicted 8.5M earthquake. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that up to 13,000 Americans and Canadians living along the 1200 kilometers of Pacific coast between Sacramento California and Vancouver, British Columbia will be killed, many more injured and water, sewer, transportation and civic infrastructure destroyed. We have much to learn from sanitation experts in the poorest nations of the world. This clip on the national news shows how communities in our region are preparing for this disaster: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/how-the-pacific-northwest-is-preparing-for-a-catastrophic-tsunami/

7. What don’t you like about the forum or about other forum users?

The comparatively low representation of sanitation professionals from the Global South. They are my inspiration. If dealing with sanitation topics is challenging for a fairly self-confident American woman like me, how do they do what they do? They combine years of higher education with the knowledge and willingness to bring communities into a discussion that has been avoided for generations. And they do this in addition to responsibilities for families and ongoing professional development. They are miracle workers who recruit, train, mentor and inspire more miracle workers.

I marvel at the contributions of Doreen Mabalo, Pawan Jha, Sowmya Rajasekaran. If only I’d met FH Mughal in Pakistan! Now that he’s retired, he has time to be such an active member of our community. But what about the people who have a lot to say but lack the time or grammar to say it?

So how can the Forum give more voice to the Global South? First, encourage more videos, especially short ones. Demonstrate new technologies. Show community members, project sites and the ecosystem. Have project colleagues interview one another. Record training sessions. Second, make it easier for people to write up their work but pairing them with others, who can assist. Mughal and me, for example, have the writing skills and can probably find the time.

What else don’t I like about the forum? The fact that this question uses a small “f”. For me the Forum will always have a large ‘F’.

8. What is your advice to the forum moderators?

Moderators help create and strengthen the Forum’s special culture. Advice? Continue following the energetic leadership of Elisabeth von Meunch. She’s the one who has made the difference, drafting great policy and procedures, getting careful buy-in from all concerned, and engaging users with great comments and questions.

9. What developments are you observing with the discussion forum?

I am impressed at the generosity of top professionals who take the time and care to answer our most basic questions and cite documents in the SuSanA Library.

10. Which developments do you like, which don’t you like?

I’m disappointed that we still haven’t come up with a universal icon for ‘toilet’ that makes visual sense to sitters, squatters, washers and wipers.

11. Which of the improvements to the forum from last year did you like the most?

I love the evolution of Forum welcome page! It’s one of the most perfect pages on the Internet and my favorite link to share with others. Clear, colorful, and inviting. Lovely icons that pop with information when you roll over them with your cursor. The rules are precise, inclusive, and welcoming. The training videos are right at the top. The Twitter feed is interactive. And look at the hours and hours of professional work given voluntarily by the top contributors. These are the online friends I depend on.

++++++++++

Thank you again Carol - for your interesting forum contributions, for leading WG 9 and for taking the time for this interview and the questions concerning them.
Kind regards

Raphaela
On behalf of the SuSanA Secretariat

Posted by a member of the SuSanA secretariat held by the GIZ Sustainable sanitation sector program
Located at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany
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