Toilet ambassadors help Singapore clean up

The classroom erupted in delighted cheers at the teacher’s vigorous thrusts into a toilet bowl.

The plunger-wielding “professor” from Japan, Atsuhiro Katsumata, was in Singapore to help the city-state’s toilet cleaners brush up their skills.

Despite its reputation as one of Asia’s cleanest cities, Singapore, it seems, has yet to take its seat among the ranks of those with the most sparkling urinals.

Enter Katsumata (44), who gave a class of 51 local cleaners tips on dealing with choked toilet bowls.

The recent four-day seminar organised by the World Toilet College (WTC) aimed to pass along advanced scrubbing and other skills to boost productivity and improve morale of Singaporean toilet cleaners, WTC founder Jack Sim said.

The WTC is the educational arm of the Singapore-based World Toilet Organisation, which Sim said has members from 40 countries, and organises the World Toilet Summit, which will be held this year in Moscow in September.

“Japan is famous for its clean toilets and their culture demands clean toilets,” Sim said.

Saiko Sakamoto, an expert on toilet aesthetics who is part of Katsumata’s clean-up crew, said toilets reflect a person’s grooming.

“If the toilets are clean, people’s manners will improve,” she said.

While some Singapore loos pass muster, other public washrooms “look very dirty”, she said.

“In shopping centres and hotel toilets, the styling is very attractive,” Sakamoto said.

Japan needed 15 years for its toilets to shine and Singapore’s toilets will require five to seven years of work before reaching that standard, she said.

Katsumata, who has organised similar seminars in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, urged toilet cleaners to uphold Singapore’s squeaky-clean reputation.

“Tourists who visit Singapore have the impression that Singapore is very beautiful and clean, so don’t disappoint them,” he said through a translator.

Singapore imposes a fine of 30 Singapore dollars ($18) on those who fail to flush public toilets.

“We are a rich country and we have everything. Our image is that of a clean and green city. We can’t have dirty toilets,” Sim said.

The pilot course was funded by Singapore’s trade union and the skills-development agency.
Sim hopes that with funding, the course will be converted into a 64-hour training programme by October.

“Once we professionalise the job of the toilet cleaners, they will take pride in their job and their salaries will increase, so everybody wins: the cleaner, the user and the owner of the building,” Sim said.

The course has left Santhi Cheti, a toilet cleaner for the past decade, feeling flush with success.

“Now I take home 750 [Singapore] dollars but [after the course] I can take home 900 to 950 dollars because now I know how to do some repairing,” Cheti said of her monthly salary. “I’m very happy because I learnt a lot.”

The curriculum taught by Katsumata and his two Japanese assistants includes a history of toilets, and how to dismantle urinals. They even learn to use hand mirrors to check for urine crystals that lead to bad smells, Sim said.

Cheti (34) is keen to pass on her new-found knowledge. “I’m very happy to be in this toilet-cleaner line, and after this course I will share with my friends everything I have learnt!”—Sapa-AFP

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