I am known for being the poop girl. Poop princess. Poop fairy. “Everybody Poops” girl. You name it! I’ve heard them and embrace them all because for the past 4 years-arguably longer- toilets have really intrigued me. From loving my Betsy Wetsy doll and my potty training toilet to analyzing toilets as an abstract form of windows during Common First Year as a freshmen in college (check out that video and I am at 55 seconds), I have somehow always found my way to toilets. It’s like a magnetic force or something.
Yes, I do understand that the aforementioned statements are just plain weird; however, once my middle school self realized that weird is actually pretty cool, I have fully embraced it. I say all of this because I feel like this connection that I have felt to understanding toilets and using them as a tool for health advocacy has really prepared me to be a full fledged sanitation activist who strives to learn more about this space everyday.
Over the course of this last year, I have been in situations where I talk about poop-like everything related to poop including genital cleansing- with giggly 4th graders, with “Im too cool for school” high schoolers, with corporate American middle-aged suits wearers, with strangers, with loved ones—with anyone and everyone. And I love it. A part of the overall mission of Wish for WASH has always been to help normalize toilet talk because you cannot fix problems that you cannot talk about.
And then, the universe conspired and I ended up in Zambia working at Society for Family Health as a reproductive health advocate and designer and I was very overwhelmed. Maybe it is my southern, faith-based and cotillion- taught roots that have always made me squeamish around public conversations about sex. So much so that I would excuse myself during the STI lectures in middle school for fear of passing out or often sit silently during sex conversations during high school table gossip. There are some things that I viewed strictly as private matters-and sex has always been one of them. This point of contention between how I have historically thought and my global health career trajectory hit me hard during our first week at SFH when Lute and I were in a board room meeting with our male colleagues where the conversation began by discussing vaginas in relation to a new female condom design. I was in shock. IT GOT REAL REAL QUICK. Going on a tour of the condom warehouse the next day where we saw circumcision models used to teach people how circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV in men by 60% literally made me almost pass out at first glance.
I immediately reverted to my classic reaction of discomfort and a severe case of awkwardness-leading me to question myself. Am I actually capable of doing this work? I began to analyze myself and was later reminded by several members of my ZamFam that my innate reaction to reproductive health speak was exactly the same as most people’s reaction to toilet talk and things like genital cleansing. And that’s when it clicked for me.
While I may not be working on exactly WASH or toilets at SFH, much of the work being done here is extraordinarily similar because we are normalizing the conversation surrounding a historically taboo topic and advocating for health equity in a space that is long overdue for some serious innovation while simultaneously working towards women’s empowerment and social justice. That mouthful of a sentence- that reality-changed my thought process and approach to this work entirely. I don’t work in siloed spaces of just WASH or just reproductive health. Whatever I do, I will work towards social change and health equity which ultimately DOES make me capable of doing meaningful work beyond my sphere of comfort.
NOW I am excited to bring my creative ideas to the table on how to engage people in the sex conversation so that one day all people are empowered to make educated decisions regarding their health and have access to contraception and care for the benefit of themselves and their families. Reproductive health advocacy and talking about sex is important, and I realized that feeling uncomfortable about it was a waste of time and energy. It was a waste of this incredible opportunity that I have been blessed with to learn and grow. Behavioral change is very difficult, and not being weirded out every 5 seconds while in perpetual sex conversations is a process that I have committed to take moving forward. In order to truly have an impact during my year here, I HAVE to engage in these conversation and realize that life aint always pretty or comfortable, but that there is an inherent beauty in realness that has the power to activate lasting and meaningful change.
WASH and Reproductive Health.
Poop and Sex.
Us and them.
To me, the lines of separation are blurred. They might appear differently on the outside, but in the end, we are all connected and are desperately needed in the fight for health equity. Screw squeamishness and awkwardness in these contexts.
Poop and sex are a part of the human experience, and it’s about damn time that we start acting like it.
To check out more about how much I love being at the Society for Family Health in Zambia while working on Wish for WASH, check out my PSI article feature here!