One of Time Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment, World Toilet Organization (WTO) founder Jack Sim tells us why we are not to be blamed for the dirty toilets in Singapore.
I used to daydream a lot and the teacher found me a nuisance because I asked too many questions beyond the subject’s scope. As such, I was always asked to stand outside the classroom. Sometimes I got caned also. But I took it as a kind of resilience building. In fact I was so used to getting caned on stage that I overcame my stage fright.
Since I was young, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I used to stay back in school in the Arts Room doing ceramics or painting till late. Sometimes I’d return to school after dinner, climb over the fence and continue working on ceramics till midnight.
I owned businesses in construction and real estate development. In 2005, there was enough money in the bank for me to retire. That’s when my social work began. It allowed me to take on the role of an artist in creating social solutions.
In 1996, Mr. Goh Chok Tong mentioned that dirty toilets were a measurement of our graciousness. I was searching for meaning in life then and I was sure that no one would do anything about the “dirty toilets” situation so I decided to do something about it. I promptly set up the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) in 1998. The WTO was subsequently formed in 2001.
I am not IT-savvy. I cannot type with all 10 fingers.
You cannot blame people for the dirty toilets. It is the infrastructure and cleaning system in the toilets that do not deliver. And what kind of cleaning services do you expect if cleaners are only getting paid $600 a month? Cleaning is a professional job. Try paying $1,000 and getting a professional to do the job and the situation will be better.
My biggest heartbreak is that bureaucrats waste my time when I talk to them.
I work outside the country most of the time and receive the red carpet treatment overseas. But over here, I am not really welcome.
We can be 50 times better than what we are today but because we are seen as the most well-managed country in the world, the civil service does not see how much more they can improve.
The youth of today are the most promising generation in history.
I wish not to be remembered. It is more important to remember the organization and for it to continue to survive and serve people with new blood.
You want people to be creative but the culture is not there because when you speak up, you are labeled a bad guy. But actually it’s the honest guy who speaks up.
My fear is to die without doing enough. Interview by Darryl Koe