SOIL: Of Poop and Poverty

SOIL Hait logo

SOIL logo – click to donate

If there is any thing that separates wealthy and poor nations around the world, it is the presence of effective sanitation.  Many countries around the world, and perhaps most people in the world, use “in-place” sanitation, a term that simply means defecating or urinating in the street.  India, China, Pakistan and a number of other major countries lack effective sanitation systems for a substantial portion of their population.

In the Americas, chronically poverty-stricken Haiti has little sanitation infrastructure, with only 17% of the population having access to improved sanitation.  Improved sanitation can mean a number of things, from modern flush toilets to simple pit latrines and composting toilets.

SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) is a non-profit with a simple mission: promote dignity, health, and sustainable livelihoods through the transformation of wastes into resources for the people of Haiti.  To be explicit, they build composting toilets in partnership with local communities in Haiti, and use the compost to enrich the soil and thereby improve the financial welfare of Haitian families.

For a few years, I’ve been a Cultivator for SOIL, meaning a regular donor.  Personally, I prefer the term “worm”, a mostly underground seldom-scene creature that makes amazing things happen through a thousand small actions.  Yep, that works for me.

SOIL is one of those charities that work hard on one, straightforward, solvable problem.  They are trying to change a small corner of the world, but their example is encouragement to others to look for solvable problems that in aggregate will change the world.  It is an organization worth supporting, and I encourage you to learn more, and support them through a one-time or monthly donation.

Sasha Kramer is one of the co-founder’s of SOIL, and she can explain their mission, her mission, better than I can, as she did on the TED stage.

Written in response to a Daily Prompt from  Soil

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Tailors, Twain, and Presidents


Andrew Johnson’s Tailor shop
by Brian Stansberry (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” – Mark Twain


If Twain was right, then perhaps our greatest President would possibly be Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president, a tailor by trade.  He knew a thing or two about clothing,

But Twain, so right about so much, was almost certainly wrong in this case.  Johnson was the born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina.  He apprenticed as a tailor, and received little formal education.  His first wife began teaching him to read at the age of seventeen.  He spent his public life in Tennessee, establishing himself as a tailor in Greeneville, Tennessee.  Through his political jaw-boning with customers at his tailor shop, he gained a reputation that led to a career in politics, as a state senator, and then governor of Tennessee.  He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1856.

With twenty-twenty hindsight, it is hard to make sense of Johnson’s politics.  He was an ardent supporter of the Union, yet favored state’s rights and opposed the franchise for slaves.  He believed slavery was essential to keep the Union together.  But, when Tennessee seceded from the Union, Johnson held onto his Senate seat, and was tapped by Lincoln to be the military governor of Union controlled Tennessee. In a bid for national unity,  Lincoln elevated Johnson to be his second term vice president.  Noticeably inebriated at the inauguration ceremonies, he made a mortifying speech and seemed content to remain inebreiated in the shadows of Honest Abe.

After Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson was thrust into office as the seventeenth President of the United States.  To say he did a poor job is a generous overstatement of his Presidential legacy.  He single-handedly tried to walk back rights of newly freed slaves, with a lenient response to Southern rebelliousness, and turning a blind-eye to the worst abuses of Reconstruction.  He waged a petulant war with Congress, eventually so inflaming the legislative branch that impeachment proceedings began.  He firmly believed that black Americans, freemen or former slaves, had no role to play in American politics.  He left office in disgrace, but with the support of recalcitrant slave-states.

We’ve had one Taylor as President, and one tailor.  Neither rank very highly in the pantheon of presidents.   There are some jobs that simply are not good preparation for Presidential office.

Written in response to a WordPress Daily prompt: Tailor

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gwvariationsIn an earlier post, I shared some good precepts that I would like my daughter, and whoever else happens to read this, to think about.

One of the most important values that was instilled in me from an early age, and reinforced over the decades of my life, is the importance of honesty.  Today, are lives are a swirl of dishonesty, with a President that regularly lies with impunity. But it is not just #45.  Corporations, politicians, celebrities, and people seemingly at every level of society seem to accept dishonesty as a tool for getting ahead.   Honesty matters, but, sadly, all too often dishonesty comes with better perks.

I do not expect a rash of honesty to break out on my advice, but perhaps my daughter, or someone like her, will find these thoughts valuable.

  1. The first person you should be honest with is yourself.
  2. Honesty is hard.  It can hurt others, it can hurt you.  Honesty stings, but heals. Dishonesty can leave lasting scars.
  3. If someone else is dishonest with you, let them know that you
    know. Give them a chance to make it right.
  4. Don’t believe anyone else’s hype, and don’t believe your own.   We all want to believe we are better than we really are.  You aren’t that awesome.
  5. Given a choice between the truth and a beguiling lie, most people will choose the lie.  It’s an old saw, but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

Finally, our first President had something to say about honesty, something #45 should take to heart, and the reason I mashed up the image for this post.

“It is an old adage that honesty is the best policy-this applies to public as well as private life-to States as well as individuals.” – George Washington

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