Viet Nam News
“Toilet knight” is the nickname of Lê Văn Hiệp, director of the Kim Hoàng Hiệp Trading, Service and Environment Limited Company, based in the southern province of Bình Dương.
He has acted as a representative of the World Toilet Organisation in Việt Nam and as the head of the mobilising department for establishing the Việt Nam Toilet Association. His company has installed some trial-free smart toilets at public areas in Bình Dương. He has active solutions to change the quality of toilets throughout the country. Lê Hương explores his interest in toilets.
Inner Sanctum: What prompted your move from real estate trading to toilets?
I established my company specialising in treating sewage, exhaust fumes, rubbish, as well as trading in real estate in 2007. My interest in toilets was sparked three years ago when my eldest daughter complained about dirty toilets in her school. She would not drink water during school hours to avoid using the toilet.
As a father, I thought all parents would share the desire of having clean toilets for their children. I decided to conduct some serious research on toilets. At first, I simply joined the parents’ association to sponsor the building of clean toilets in my daughter’s school, but I was disappointed more than once with the results. For many reasons, students still could not get access to clean toilets.
I wanted to find out a proper way to solve the problem. I have conducted surveys among residents of all ages, and foreigners at schools, hospitals and public places to understand the need for clean toilets.
Inner Sanctum: How did you know about the World Toilet Organisation? How did you take on the responsibility of a representing the organisation in Việt Nam?
I think I was lucky to have got this responsibility. During my early days of research, I met Vũ Xuân Hồng, chairman of the Việt Nam Friendship Union, researcher Đào Xuân Sơn, and a friend, Nguyễn Xuân Sáng, in HCM City. They all shared my interest and decided to work with me. I spent my own money to visit various developed countries to study smart toilets and joined the WTO, which is a UN organisation based in Singapore. I then sent some of my staff to visit Singapore to understand modern toilet models. We visited the WTO’s school training consultants to learn about designing and managing toilets.
We hosted the first ever World Toilet Day in the country on November 19, 2015, in Bình Dương in co-operation with local authorities and the WTO.
The event drew over 2,000 pupils and students who participated in a run with the aim of encouraging the community as a whole to join hands in this revolution of building clean toilets.
Inner Sanctum: What model have you followed? Why do you want to take on the responsibility of building clean toilets for the public?
I revised some models in Singapore to suit Việt Nam’s culture and economic conditions. I want to build the most effective toilets at a low cost. I want to take on the responsibility because I have seen that public toilets remain dirty for a long time. No individual or agency has been able to improve the situation though a lot of money has been invested in the process.
I have undertaken a thorough study to introduce smart, economic and environmentally-friendly toilets using a sensor system, less electricity, less water, and solar power of 5 - 48 volts. People using the toilet don’t have to touch anything from opening the door, getting the paper and drying hands, to flushing. They can watch what is happening outside through a camera. People can give their feedback by simply pressing “satisfied” or “dissatisfied” button and inform managers about the quality of the toilet.
When users have health problems, they can use the SOS button to call for help. Such toilet equipment will be mass produced in Việt Nam at a reasonable cost. Toilet managers can control the toilets through the internet.
As the head of the mobilising department to establish the Việt Nam Toilet Association, I have submitted a plan to the Government and concerned agencies for improving the quality of public toilets in the country. I think this is a persuasive plan, but it requires the co-operation of all members of the association.
Inner Sanctum: Have far have you come in this effort?
Our company has proposed some solutions to mobilise individual capital and build experimental toilets before the decision of the Government and the support of local authorities. In the central areas, we can recover the investment through advertisements and an accompanying ATM machine, while in remote areas we will install free toilets for the local communities.
However, there are a lot of obstacles in acquiring land, constructing toilets, and clearing building regulations.
HCM City and Bình Dương will install our smart toilets that will contain five convenient, automatic functions including odour control and quality control through the Internet. These have been approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Bình Dương plans to build a smart city by 2021 and our project will play a key role in this. As many as 300 toilets have been installed in the province and 34 others will be installed in HCM City.
Currently, our products have been highly appreciated by international partners and the media. I’m still waiting for feedback from actual users. I have contacted ten provinces and got a lot of support. The trouble is training local members of the association to install and manage modern toilets.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us something more about you and your family?
I manage my company with my wife Đoan Thanh. My 19-year-old daughter is studying in the US, and my son is just four years old.
On more than one occasion, especially on being presented with images of dirty toilets at schools and hospitals, I have felt the urge to quit. Authorities would say, "Our school’s toilet is okay; it is none of your business" or "We have no budget for that" or "We have a company specialising in environmental care for our toilets."
However, when I see dirty toilets at hospitals and schools, which directly affect people’s health, I think: "Why should I give up when I have a solution?”
Our company has offered short-term training courses conducted by WTO experts in consultancy, design and management of toilets. I have proposed PR plans and other solutions to encourage more people to use smart toilets. I think public toilets should be free and of superior standards.
I am calling for support from leaders at all levels, as well as individuals and enterprises to join hands with us in this “revolution” and bring about a change for the better in people’s living standards. — VNS