Role of Community Volunteers in affecting social change

Shelter Associates (S.A) has been working intensively in different informal settlements for the last 3 decades to implement different projects related to sanitation, housing and Covid-relief for the urban poor of Maharashtra. We are a pioneer in using data and technology for the good of the slum communities and even after winning multiple awards for our methodology and innovation, we consider our true strength to be the people who create the last mile change – our community volunteers

A training session for community volunteers in progress

While working in the slum communities, we realized that if we want the urban poor to accept our interventions, we must educate, empower and make them our partners in this journey of social transformation. Thus we started identifying individuals who have the potential to make a difference in their society. Various Self Help Groups (SHG), Community Based Organizations (CBOs), Community leaders, youth organizations, and households within the slum settlements are contacted to find potential volunteers. 

Being from the communities, they have a sound understanding of the social and financial issues faced by the community people. Since these volunteers are familiar with the community, they connect and build a rapport very well with the community members easing the entire mobilization process. The community volunteers go through rigorous training which helps them understand the need of the undertaken project, its objectives and also how they can bring about on-ground transformation. 

A community volunteer educating an old women on importance of vaccination

They are then trained by SA experts in collecting data, reading maps, using survey tools, handling IEC material and conducting awareness activities. The whole slum is divided into pockets and each volunteer handles one pocket. They go door to door to conduct household level surveys. In the process, they also educate community members about the importance of sanitation, waste segregation and taking the Covid vaccine, etc. 

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Allocation of Volunteers to systematically mobilize communities for a wider impact

SA has been able to impact lakhs of urban poor individuals with the help of community volunteers. It is noteworthy that volunteers play a big role in SA’s core initiative the One Home One Toilet (OHOT) which has directly provided home toilets to 1.5 lakh individuals vastly improving their health, safety and wellbeing. In the recent Covid pandemic, our volunteers worked very hard to create awareness about Covid, the necessity of getting vaccinated and to dispel rumours surrounding vaccination in order to end vaccine hesitancy. This is how we were able to create awareness around the pandemic and facilitated vaccination for over 18,000 urban poor. 

A volunteer helps during raw material distribution for building home toilets

Community volunteers play the most crucial role in monitoring our projects on ground. This is the most important part since feedback on the progress of the project and the acceptance of the interventions by community people is the true measure of our success. It is the qualitative and quantitative assessment of our community volunteers which helps us fine tune and tweak our projects for the better. 

The most heart-warming part of our association with the community volunteers is watching their unique self-development journey. Many of our volunteers come from underprivileged background, without much education or job prospects they have struggled to make ends meet. When they join us as volunteers, they are thrilled to be a part of something bigger than themselves. With determination they learn to use survey tools and read maps. Slowly when they gain confidence, they are able to convince their fellow community members to adopt good practices and when they are able to bring transformation in their society is when their true potential is realized. 

“After learning to read spatial data from the Shelter Associates’ team, I was able to bring a significant change in the sanitation status of my community by convincing them to get a toilet built in their homes. People who called me ‘bhajiwali’ before now call me madam”.

Sujata, community volunteer from Pune