When Allison Howitt retired as a Dewsbury health visitor after 24 years in post, she wanted to make her leaving-do memorable.
So instead of handing colleagues at the Ravensthorpe Health Centre in Dewsbury ‘the usual box of chocolates’, the Kirkheaton Parish church member decided to twin the centre’s toilet with a loo in Liberia.
Liberia, hardest-hit by the current Ebola outbreak, is close to Allison’s heart after she visited the West African nation last year.
Catching colleagues in Dewsbury unawares on Monday night, she presented them with a special Toilet Twinning certificate for the ladies’ loo, complete with a photo of the latrine they had ‘twinned’.
Toilet Twinning is a quirky campaign to raise funds for sanitation in some of the poorest countries on earth. It’s a partnership between development charities, Tearfund and Cord.
Allison also showed colleagues a short film about twinning – and set them the challenge of twinning the men’s toilets. ‘I wanted my retirement to be about something other than me,’ she says.
Allison visited Liberia last year, at the age of 60, with her daughter Suzie, then a trainee GP in London and a former student of Lepton County School and Greenhead College. They were part of a team of Christian medical professionals volunteering their time to provide healthcare in three rural clinics, treating conditions including malaria, TB and malnutrition.
Allison has become a standard-bearer for Toilet Twinning since seeing a Toilet Twinning certificate in a loo in the Yorkshire Dales earlier this year.
It reminded me of the plight of the people of Liberia, especially now Ebola has struck,’ she says. ‘It's hard to comprehend that 2.5 billion in the world don't have a toilet. I have access to nine toilets at work, plus two at home.
‘When you've seen children in Liberia using the fields as toilets because there's none in their home or school, it really brings it home to you, as well as seeing the massive adverse health implications of that. Conditions were very basic in Liberia which made me appreciate how immensely privileged we are in the UK – and I really valued my toilet. ’
Having trained as a nurse in London, Allison later further trained as a midwife before moving into health visiting. Originally from Oldham, she has spent 27 years working as a health visitor in Yorkshire. She lives with husband Richard in Huddersfield.
Allison is also a committed Christian and said: ‘During our trip to Liberia, we saw how the churches and Christian organisations there were motivated to make a difference. It was a privilege to walk a few steps with them on this journey.’