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One Toilet At A Time: An Interview With Kerala Changemaker Lakshmi Menon – India Currents

Best Indian American Magazine | San Jose CA | India Currents
Best Indian American Magazine | San Jose CA | India Currents

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No longer is a woman dependent on her family, spouse, or children to visit places. The trend of solo female travelers has emerged swiftly, and so has the desire to explore the world on its own. And from globe-trotters to backpackers, woman travelers are now in the mainstream.
While traveling long distances, a major problem a woman faces is the availability of clean washrooms. Either she has to use the washrooms of the petrol pumps or she has to look someplace behind the trees. Traveling energizes, but the search for washrooms exhausts and also creates health issues. 
And finding a solution in parts of Kerala — a favorite destination worldwide — is not an easy task. 

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The aim of the social entrepreneur, Lakshmi Menon, is to resolve social problems through her out-of-the-box ideas. She strongly believes that with little effort and the right perspective, effective changes can be made. She is a role model for the younger generation who aspire to become businesswomen with a goal.
She has introduced the Toiless initiative to make travel comfortable for women. In this exclusive interview, Lakshmi Menon talked to India Currents about Toiless and other initiatives.
LM: During the COVID time when I traveled from Kochi to Kasaragod in Kerala, I realized how difficult it was to find a toilet. In a normal situation, I would visit my friend or relative for nature’s call, but that was not possible at that time. Even restaurants or malls were shut, so I had to use the filthiest toilet in Kerala. I had planned a 5-day trip, but I had to cut it to 3 days. I couldn’t drink water because of the fear of using roadside dirty washrooms.
I thought we could not wait for the government to bring out a solution. If they had the plans or if they had ever considered the woman’s health and this major problem, they would have done something long ago. Still, we are facing this issue even after 75 years of independence. That is how I came up with the idea of Toiless. The toilet is the place where we literally toil and struggle. So, I wanted to make it a toil-less experience and a toil-less journey.
When I was defining the problem, I realized that it is not that we don’t have clean toilets. They are not maintained well and we don’t know where the good-ones are located.
I realized I needed to figure out a way to assist women in finding clean restrooms. I have made some features mandatory for this project. Any enterprise that has a clean toilet in their establishment or their house, where the floor is dry, where they can provide a healthy faucet, tissue paper, and a rack, where women can keep their phones and keys, and two hooks for hanging bags or dupattas and a thrash bin. These were the minimum requirements I was requesting. If anyone can provide this in their toilets, we will enlist them in our web app called Toiless.in.
LM: Yes, I can say that our initiative is a big success as private enterprises are supporting us. Considering the cost factor, we are not advertising, but promoting through Instagram. Through the ‘Toiless’ app also, we are making women aware as they have to suffer while travelling. Facilities will pop up on the GPS of travelers.
IC: How do you identify the places to make toilets? And are they free to use?
LM: When I approached different business houses and property owners, they all appreciated the idea. People are offering their places. Even leisure spaces, kiosks, marriage halls, and showrooms are ready to be part of this project. To use these washrooms, one has to pay Rs 30 or Rs 50, not a large amount for a clean toilet.
LM: Through this, I am trying to link business with social causes. After the floods in Kerala in 2018, the idea of making Chekutty dolls clicked for me. The weavers of the village of Chendamangalam were totally destroyed. To help them, I started making Chekutty dolls with the flood stained Chendamangalam handloom fabric. I had tried to clean the fabric, but the stains were deep and the cloth was soiled. So, not focusing on beauty or perfection, highlighting the stained fabric as a symbol of survival and resilience, I ventured into making dolls. I made 360 dolls from one saree and sold them for Rs 25 in India and at a higher price abroad. All the collections were distributed among weavers.
Now these dolls are supplied to almost 65 countries in the world. The World Bank gave Chekuttys as a gift to its delegates during the UN’s Reconstruction Conference held in Geneva.
LM: Right now, I am working on 14 projects, all for social causes. The Wicksdom Project, or ‘Ammoomathiri’ initiative, was started for elderly mothers. They make wicks and earn their livelihood. My concept is to adopt an elderly mother. If a residential society, where usually almost 100 or 200 families live, purchases 200 packets of Ammommathiri, it is like adopting an elderly mother.
Another one is “Pen with Love.” I have used recycled paper to make a pen which has seeds in it within the layers. The pens can be thrown away after use, and the seeds will germinate and grow into plants.
Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 14 books on different subjects and translated around 160 books from…

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