Patricia Arquette Talks GiveLove and Eco-Sanitation

By Sydney Radclyffe for Box News

Although more celebrities and public figures are becoming involved in charitable work and are donating more than ever before, not all have the capacity to do the ‘dirty work’ necessary to tackle some of the most pervasive problems threatening a safe, peaceful future for humanity as a whole. A willingness to take the hands-on approach is at the core of Patricia Arquette’s work with GiveLove, a skills training NGO which the actress and activist co-founded in 2010. Box Media’s Sophie Edmonds spoke with Arquette about the purpose, process, and ethics behind GiveLove. 

The NGO was established in the wake of the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010, primarily to help with emergency sanitation solutions for the vast number of people displaced by the disaster. While this undertaking was made in response to a crisis, it highlighted a troubling general lack of infrastructure around healthy, ecological sanitation and waste management; the organisation identifies untreated waste leading to water pollution as a cause of millions of deaths around the globe annually. 

Sitting down with Box News, Arquette emphasises the importance of ecological sanitation (EcoSan) systems to improve the quality of life in developing communities, and to address worldwide issues of water scarcity and waste treatment. As GiveLove’s mission statement explains, while the global need for clean water protection and access has long been recognised and positive large-scale efforts in this area are underway, eco-friendly sanitation and waste disposal methods as a crucial aspect of the problem have largely been neglected. Arquette identifies a reluctant, ‘squeamish’ attitude among many figures who might otherwise lend their voice to activism when it comes to the subject of sanitation. 

GiveLove has now been supporting EcoSan systems for nine years, not only through financial aid but by training communities and spreading awareness of how to better dispose of human waste and protect water supplies at the local level. In Arquette’s words, this involves a re-thinking and repurposing of ‘waste’ itselfjust as we use compost and manure in agriculture, composting human waste could be the key to both safeguarding water supplies and improving crop fertility by avoiding harsh chemical fertilisers. Compost sanitation protects water by removing waste from the water system, can improve soil quality and rainfall retention, and even reduce carbon emissions.  

In fact, Arquette sees compost sanitation as being at the centre of problem solving for developing communities. For instance, non-secure public toilet facilities are a common site of sexual assault against women and girls, and girls are often forced to drop out of school as they mature due to fears around safety. Beyond this, there are currently over 1 billion people living without established sanitation systems, leading to a multitude of health and child development concerns. Implementing affordable, safe, and clean composting toilet facilities in schools and homes not only reduces the burden on public health, but benefits the planet. 

Arquette has often used her visibility to advocate for GiveLove’s cause yet affirms the need for greater public awareness and involvement in communities across the world. She sees inter-community collaboration as crucial in addressing global sanitation with the gravity it deserves, not as a fringe problem affecting marginal groups in ‘faraway’ places but as vital to our shared future as human beings. Inspiring young minds is easier and more effective than engaging preoccupied adults with what they see as ‘outside’ problems, which is why Arquette supports projects like international school-to-school programs. Enabling direct communication between young people from vastly different environments is a sure way to educate and enlighten while instilling a sense of global stewardship.

Schools are also a great locus for fundraising and charitable organisation, a major priority for GiveLove; the NGO supports EcoSan systems from the ground up, beginning with sanitation education and training in construction, through to building composting toilets in schools, houses and businesses, and leaving local communities with the knowledge and skills to continue. GiveLove delivers educational course modules, site planning and estimates, building materials, and further teaching tools, such as comic books for kids and useful infographics for adults.

Resources are, of course, a constant concern as the NGO expands across continents in its mission to facilitate adequate global sanitation. Since operations began in 2010 GiveLove has established projects in Kenya, Nicaragua, Colombia, Uganda, and even in the US, where for five months, team members stood in solidarity with Dakota Access Pipeline protesters at Standing Rock, providing sanitation for thousands of activists and Indigenous water protectors. 

Arquette herself spent time living at the camp and became an important public face of the movement in the media. It’s clear that not only is she ready and able to do the necessary groundwork to create change, but that her perspective as an activist is unconfined; Arquette is neither limited to tending her own backyard nor afraid of raising her voice in defence of others, even when most in her community would not. This activist might also be an actressand an author, toobut her influence undoubtedly stems not from her fame, but from her capability, integrity, and grounded vision of a better future for all.