Shouting it from the hilltops

By Amy Fallon

Mark Balla, also known as ‘The Toilet Warrior’, has used his work to dramatically change the lives of thousands of schoolgirls and their communities around the world to promote Rotary.

Mark discovered the challenges confronting teenage girls in India who had no school toilets on a 2012 business trip there.

It was here that Mark was introduced to Rotary and upon returning to Australia he joined the Rotary Club of Box Hill Central in 2014. Consequently, the club set up Operation Toilets Australia, an entity of the Rotary Club of Box Hill Central, to raise money to build school toilets in India.

The project, which builds toilets and delivers school hygiene education programs in developing countries to enable girls to stay in school longer and get married later, was launched the same year. Working with the Rotary Clubs of Nasik Road and Delhi Ashoka in India, Operation Toilets opened 15 toilets in a school of 500 children in 2015.

Mark was soon after dubbed ‘The Toilet Warrior’ by an Indian community publication in Australia. Today, the team works in India and Ethiopia and has recently undertaken a pilot project in Nepal.

Operation Toilets is promoted around the world by knocking on doors of clubs. The team also does school presentations in Australia and the UK.

Through this and other efforts, plus relationships formed at Rotary International Conventions, they’ve raised nearly US$1 million for Operation Toilets Australia in a decade.

The project “lives and breathes Rotary” says Mark.

“Every presentation, interview or publication highlights over and over again that we could not do the work that we do without Rotary,” he says.

Mark has spoken at more than 100 clubs in Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, UK and India, and presented at 17 district conferences and four water, sanitation and hygiene WASH-RAG World Water Summits. Mark has also delivered a TEDx Talk, published a book, and appeared on television, radio and in newspapers in India and Australia, most recently on ABC Conversations.

He says that Operation Toilets has achieved its success because of its “never give up attitude”.
“We never turn down an opportunity, no matter how small it may seem, as the small ones may lead to the big ones,” says Mark.

He also attributes its progress to a wonderful committee.

“I am the noisy-standing-on-the-hill-tops-shouting-about-it face of Operation Toilets,” says Mark. “But everyone else on the committee makes all that possible through their less noisy but equally diligent and committed roles in the background.”

MAIN PICTURE: ‘Toilet Warrior’ Mark Balla has promoted Rotary and the work of Operation Toilets Australia, an entity of the Rotary Club of Box Hill Central, via TEDx Talks, a book, television interviews, and newspaper articles in India and Australia. Most recently, he was featured on the ABC’s radio program Conversations.