Shelter Associates understand that community participation is an essential component of inclusive planning. It has been observed by the NGO that without effective community involvement, support and understanding projects fail to achieve tangible long-lasting change and ultimately fail in their objective of slum rehabilitation. This is why Shelter Associates invest a significant amount of time and energy into establishing and nurturing effective working relationships with all stakeholders of their projects, especially the slum dwellers who are after all the end users of the designs and occupiers and caretakers of the projects. These relationships are the unseen element of Shelter Associates projects; they are the ‘software’ components which support the ‘hardware’ interventions, such as new housing, new individual toilets and solid waste collection schemes. Workshops are integral to the software component of the project and have now been expanded in scope to include FGDs.
The FGDs are informal gatherings of small groups of people who are of the same gender and approximate age. This format not only allows for issues specific to that demographic to be discussed but, due to the informal and intimate nature of the gathering, it also means that more sensitive topics can be discussed; questions, statements and admissions that would not normally be said in a large formal meeting with all members of the community are freely relayed and discussed sensitively and compassionately with Shelter Associates social workers. These sessions provide insight into the behaviour of people who live without access to toilets and allows Shelter Associates to ascertain the communities current experience, awareness and understanding of the issues of open defecation including the associated issues of sexual harassment, menstrual health, nutrition, violent assault and gender insensitivity.