It was that time of the year where anxiety was its peak. Everyone was sending out their portfolios for the college internship. While I had set my mind on trying to get into something that was often talked about in architecture schools but rarely ever see being implemented- where architects design for the community with the community.
I had sent my portfolio to Shelter Associates (SA) with low expectations and an honest email about how I am interested in working with the community and learning more about the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). On being accepted to work at, I was excited and curious to find out how an NGO works with the community and whether the design process is different or similar.
During my first month in SA I was assigned to work on an Area Resource Centre (ARC) in one community of Kolhapur city in Maharashtra where a community toilet block was to be converted into an ARC. SA had provided individual toilets for most of the houses in that settlement making several community toilet blocks redundant or highly underutilised. Hence SA jointly with the community, decided to convert one of them into an ARC that could be used more meaningfully by the community.
On my visit to the site, I noticed the poor maintenance of community toilet blocks (CTB’s) where a lot of of the pans were clogged SA motivated the community to participate in their ‘One Home One Toilet’ project which completely freed them of their dependency on CTB’s as 70% families opted for a private toilet in their homes. Moreover SA also forged an excellent working relationship with the urban local body including the elected members. I learnt how the community especially the women aspired for an Area Resource Centre in terms of ownership and the activities. In the meetings conducted it was found that the people of the community wanted the ARC to be run by the women of the community. There was also an exit meeting which I got to attend, which happens when SA completes the OHOT project. It felt like a festival of its own kind, there was a lot of joy on the faces of the people and the children in the community.
Other than the Area Resource Centre, I also got to learn about the various sanitation options provided by SA depending on the ground situation. These ranged from tiger toilets in Donaje, the use of various prototypes of septic tanks done in Kolhapur and Thane and a biogas project in Kolhapur.
There were also settlements that I visited in Navi Mumbai and Thane that were compact. There was a lack of open spaces in these settlements. The houses in these settlements are extremely small and lack natural light. The houses in Navi Mumbai and Thane are heavily dependent on the Community toilet blocks. I learnt that the people in such settlements were very repulsed initially to the idea of having a toilet in their own house. They are slowly adapting to this change since for a long time it was frowned upon to have a toilet in the household.
I was also able to closely follow an ongoing housing project in Bondre Nagar, a settlement of Kolhapur. This has helped me understand how the spatial data using Geographical Information systems (GIS) collected in the slum is used to identify certain important aspects of the settlement. Other than that, I found that the various mobilization activities conducted in the settlement have helped in engaging the community in the design process.
All in all, the experience of working at Shelter Associates has been extremely humbling and comforting. The interactions I have had with the people in various communities and settlement during the community meetings have made me believe in the inclusiveness of this process. It has been a very enriching experience working at Shelter Associates and understanding how the communities are affected and the countless ways in which they can be helped. I intend to use the participatory design approach in various projects in the future.