Hello everyone!

My name is Rohit Kalpande. I recently joined the NGO Shelter Associates as a Junior GIS analyst. The first month at this organisation was all about understanding and adapting to the work and my responsibilities. I was elated when I was asked to join the GIS team that was to visit Kotagiri, a beautiful hill station in the Nilgiris. I was very excited as this was going to be an enriching learning experience and an opportunity to collaborate with the Keystone Foundation. 

Keystone Foundation is a not-for-profit that has been working towards improving the well-being of indigenous people, local communities and the ecosystems that sustain them for the past 30 years. The foundation is committed to addressing environmental issues that worsen climate change, promoting gender equality by empowering women, and preserving traditional livelihood opportunities while safeguarding indigenous knowledge systems. Owing to our experience in spatial data mapping, we were roped in to undertake the mapping of 4 settlements in Kotagiri taluka. 

Every day at Kotagiri was a new experience for me. Even though the area, settlements and people were different, I observed that one thing remains constant – people are facing similar problems and are in dire need of effective solutions.  Meetings were conducted in every settlement where the process and usage of spatial maps were explained to the community and the Keystone staff members. I was pleased by the curiosity and excitement of the community. Over the week we carried out the mapping, numbering of structures and surveys. Our stint in Kotagiri ended with a presentation on the various maps produced and how it can be leveraged to trace patterns of wildlife and the living conditions of the community. They recognised the power of data and how it can be utilised to save the human and wildlife population. 

As a newbie in the GIS department, this was a complete eye-opener. I was able to understand the process of spatial data mapping and how it can contribute to real life problem solving. The pleasant weather and picturesque tea plantations were the icing on the cake. I look forward to the opportunity of gaining more exposure to spatial data mapping and witnessing the impact it has on improving people’s lives. 

-Rohit Kalpande, Junior GIS Analyst

Shelter Associates


Beautiful beaches, food, and pleasant climate are what come to our mind when we think of Goa. Recently, I got a chance to visit this amazing tourist destination to attend a Tech Sprint hosted by Avni. This annual event brings together Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from across the country to discuss their work and how the Avni platform is utilized to resolve some of the most pressing social and environmental issues.

What is Avni?

Avni is an open-source platform for doing field surveys and data collection. It also acts as a Case management system for non-profit organizations. It provides facilities to work with different sectors – like health, water, education, and sanitation & hygiene.

Avni – Bringing new technology to Non-profits

The three-day event included a wide range of activities, such as NGO tech talks, panel discussions, and knowledge-sharing sessions. The first day began with a unique introduction session where all the participants got to know one another, and share delicacies brought from their respective states. This was followed by an NGO talks session, during which NGOs shared their experiences and highlighted the impetus provided by Avni to their social development work.

It was encouraging to see organizations working across sectors like health, water, education and social welfare using avni very efficiently for the betterment of the society. We at Shelter Associates, utilize the Avni platform and GIS technology to collect, organize and publish slum data.
One of the main topics for discussion at this year’s event was the Roadmap and Feature of Avni. Deep dive sessions were conducted on the Avni- Glific integration and how organizations could retrieve data from Avni.

My takeaway from the sprint
After a day loaded with tech discussions, we decided to unwind by taking in Goa’s stunning sunset at the beach. Totally refreshed and recharged by Goa’s breathtaking natural beauty, we cherished every bit of the break.
This tech conference was a huge success, providing a platform for all the attendees to learn and share the latest developments in technology. It was inspiring to learn how Non-profits across our country are using new technology to solve our society’s pressing problems. Though the conference is just over, I am already looking forward to the next Avni sprint!
Kuldeep Lodha,
Software Developer,
Shelter Associates

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


Menstruation is an essential component of women’s reproductive cycle. However, in most parts of the world, it is still considered taboo and is rarely spoken about. Menstrual rituals and taboos have a severe impact on the lives of women and adolescent girls, reinforcing gender inequity and exclusion. Furthermore, studies have shown a strong link between poor menstrual hygiene and infections of the urinary or reproductive system, as well as other illnesses. Even well-educated women and girls have very less knowledge on menstruation than they must possess. It is true as people in their family never talked about PERIODS before. Girls start menstruating between the age group of 9-12 years and ignorance can lead to a different state of mind when approaching the first period. With stomach cramps and the fear of getting clothes stained, handling the menstruation cycle can be very challenging for every girl. In low-income areas, people start using rags while others have sanitary pads, menstrual cups, or tampons as an alternative. Each product has its benefits and drawbacks. Sanitary pads cause the most harm to nature as well as health. In a lifetime a woman uses around 11,000 menstrual pads which are either non-degradable or take a long time to degrade. The gel in the pads is harmful to individuals as it can clog the cervix from menstruating.

Menstrual hygiene workshops conducted for adolescent girls.

Women have their ways and preferences of handling the menstrual phase of their life. Personal preferences, resource availability, economic position, cultural customs and beliefs, education status, and knowledge about menstruation all have a role in how these techniques are implemented across the world. Menstruation hygiene practices are of great significance since they have a health impact; if ignored, they can lead to toxic shock syndrome, reproductive tract infections (RTI), and other vaginal diseases. In rural areas, women use clothes that create less pollution but are not always convenient. In some areas, women use sanitary pads but they dispose of them according to the availability of place, and their monthly habits. Sanitary pads from different brands cost a lot of money with a huge amount of waste generated; while on the other hand cotton cloth or rags are cost-effective with zero pollution. The best solution for zero waste during menstruation is to use good-quality reusable cloth pads or menstrual cups. These are safe for the body and the environment. The only prerequisite is to clean it properly and dry it before storing it until its next use.  Use of safe and hygienic-sanitary products is one thing, but most importantly one should not be afraid of sharing their menstrual issues at home or with friends or family. Knowledge about female anatomy and changes that occur during menstruation should be educated in early adolescence. Your daughter or sister might be uncomfortable talking with you about their period as you would be, but this is the time to break barriers and communicate to educate. Menstruation should not be considered taboo in our society as every family has a mother, sister, or wife who goes through periodic pain and needs emotional as well as physical relief during the four days of menstruation.

Menstrual hygiene workshops conducted with community people.

Training and workshops on menstruation and menstrual hygiene management should be organized to enhance the knowledge of menstrual hygiene. Primary and Secondary school teachers should be taught and instructed on how to teach kids about menstruation and maintaining cleanliness and hygiene during such times. Adolescent girls and women should be made aware of the latest menstrual products, different manufacturers, healthy practices, government policies, and so on through personal interactions as well as social and electronic media. Subsidies on menstrual products should be provided so that every woman can afford them. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should step forward to teach rural residents about menstruation, menstrual hygiene, the necessity of home toilets, benefits of effective hand washing, knowledge about diseases of the reproductive tract caused by inadequate cleanliness, and so on. To avoid the problem of disposal, emphasis should be placed on the usage of reusable sanitary or cloth pads.

Shelter Associates is an NGO working for the welfare of the urban poor through its WASH interventions and has taken various measures to bring safe sanitation for the slum dwellers. A need to bring about transformation was urgently felt and we started conducting menstrual hygiene workshops for women living in informal settlements where we create awareness on the topic while advocating the use of cost-friendly and Eco-friendly products like cloth pads or menstrual cups. So far, we have conducted 100 such workshops in Navi Mumbai, and through discussions, sharing personal experiences, and demonstrations in a safe and friendly environment, we have helped more than 1300 women adopt the use of cloth pads or menstrual cups. Regular follow-up and guidance encourage them to spread the word within their communities. We plan to begin workshops in Pune, Thane, and Kolhapur soon.

Workshops conducted with school teachers regarding use of reusable menstrual pads.

Why celebrate Toilets?

Talking about toilets is really uncomfortable but we at Shelter Associates do just that – we not only talk about Toilets but also help underprivileged people build one. According to UN-Water, 15% of people in the world don’t have access to a toilet. Every day, over 700 children in India under five year old die from diarrhea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and poor hygiene. Toilet at home means menstruating girls, elderly and disabled people do not have to face the indignity of relieving outside. Have you ever imagined yourself living without a toilet? Life without a toilet at home is dirty, inconvenient, dangerous and undignified.

Clean and decorated toilet at Shramik Nagar, Pune.

Tackling the global sanitation crisis and achieving sustainable development goal #6, we need to provide water and sanitation for all by 2030. Despite the fact that sanitation is a recognized human right by the United Nations, there is an urgent need for a massive investment and innovation to quadruple progress all along the sanitation chain, from toilets to the transportation, collection, and treatment of human waste. The main theme of U.N-Water this year is valuing toilets. The main aim is to focus on the underfunded, poorly managed parts of the world, mostly with disastrous repercussions for health, economy, and the environment, particularly in the poorest and most vulnerable families. Shelter Associates started working on sanitation  in Maharashtra even before sanitation started drawing the attention of the Government of India. In 2013 Shelter Associates started the landmark project, “One Home One Toilet”, to deliver household toilets to the families at informal settlements on a cost-sharing basis.

Blessed to have a toilet at home.

According to the Government Of India, India is the largest open defecating nation in the world, where almost 15 percent of the total population have no access to sanitation which has a detrimental impact on the health, education, financial security, and safety of people living in informal communities. SA facilitates access to sanitation in informal settlements by: (1) setting up a very robust spatial data platform to pinpoint families who lack access to basic sanitation, (2) facilitating the construction of household toilets, (3) conducting various behavioral change activities to increase awareness within the community and (4) providing a forum for discussing sanitation issues.

On the occasion of World Toilet Day on 19th November 2021, Shelter Associates celebrated the milestone of completion of 24000+ individual toilets in various informal settlements of Pune, Thane, Kolhapur and Navi Mumbai along with the completion of the 100th individual toilet in Shramik Vasahat community in the Vishrantwadi ward of Pune. Present at the event were different dignitaries from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and local leaders from the area. 

Drawings made by children.

Often neglected are the ones who keep our community toilets safe and sanitized, such caretakers of community toilets from the 4 cities were felicitated as ‘Sanitation Warriors’ by the esteemed guests. Their efforts and years of hard work were appreciated by all. The day was marked with events to increase awareness of sanitation issues. Members from various informal settlements of Pune, Thane, Kolhapur and Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporations participated in the Toilet decoration competition, drawing competition, musical chairs, ‘Majhi galli, Swachh galli’ initiative and other events related to sanitation. 

Felicitation of “Sanitation Warriors”.

These joint efforts of community members, Government officials of the 4 Municipal Corporations, and Shelter Associates team were lauded by all guests as a model worth emulating for other communities. Sustained dedication and commitment by all stakeholders alone can help us achieve our Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of clean water and adequate sanitation for all by 2030. 


COVID19 is still stalking the world and the urban poor residing in informal settlements are struggling to get vaccinated. There are various misconceptions and myths regarding COVID19,and hence there is a pressing need for widespread awareness campaigns to dispel these fears. There is a paucity of information related to vaccination processes which has resulted in low vaccine coverage in slum communities. As a result, it is often assumed that residents in informal settlements are reluctant to receive vaccinations. More than 75% of individuals living in the slums of Pune, Kolhapur, Thane and Navi Mumbai who are above 18 years old are eager to get vaccinated, according to Shelter Associates’ household level survey results. However, vaccination coverage is low. The stumbling block is the online registration process and vaccine availability. In Maharashtra only 30% of the population is vaccinated for the first dose and only 1/3rd of them is vaccinated with the second dose. The lack of adherence to Covid Appropriate Behavior(CAB) guidelines, combined with a lower level of vaccination coverage, are key contributors to the rise of COVID-19 infection in the state. Our focus should be on an effective community-based behavioral change strategy that clears up any vaccination misunderstandings and facilitates online registrations along with community vaccination camps, as well as promoting CAB.

In house GIS Analyst working on informal settlement

Shelter Associates’ In-house GIS Data and field teams play a very important role in driving the vaccination process. The process followed by the team are as below:

  • The team of GIS Analysts map the selected slums of the 4 cities of Maharashtra with the help of a GIS based software. 
  • Plus Codes (Digital addresses codes) are generated for each house 
  • On-field community workers at Shelter Associates physically visit each and every slum house and collect raw data through household surveys covering the vaccination details and the families interested for vaccination
  • After this process, the data is integrated on a GIS platform and spatially queried. .

The spatial maps generated by the GIS team include details of the number of people who have completed their vaccinations and those who are left behind. Accordingly, detailed planning is done to drive the vaccination camp. Shelter Associates plan on how things can be taken forward to drive the vaccination process smoothly. To register the unregistered for the first dose of vaccine, volunteers residing in slum communities are trained so that none of them are missed out and all get vaccinated. 

Vaccination Tokens are been distributed

Once the slum pocket gets finalised, the community co-ordinators at Shelter Associates distribute tokens to the registered individuals. These tokens are then presented at the time of Vaccination Camps for a smooth implementation of the vaccination process. Upon further cross-verification, the pre-registered and spot registered individuals are inoculated by the health officers present during the camp.

Till September 2021, Shelter Associates helped more than 4431 people get vaccinated in Pune and Kolhapur through 16 and 9 vaccination camps respectively. Shelter Associates is making full efforts to raise awareness around the importance of vaccination  through a rigorous process of primary surveys and data collation, mobilizing the community people and setting up vaccination camps.

Spatial Map of Ganjimal Settlement (Kolhapur) post vaccination

This map is created through spatial data, post vaccination of Ganjimal Settlement of Kolhapur Municipal Corporation. Shelter Associates is rigorously  working on the other slums to cater the needy and help them get vaccinated through ground level survey and setting up vaccination camps.



While the world is looking forward to the best possible remedy to COVID19 through vaccinations, the fact remains that this vaccine comes with its own set of myths and misinformation. Medical experts worldwide believe that vaccines are as important to your overall health as diet and exercise, but the question still prevails: Should you get yourself vaccinated with the newly developed COVID19 vaccine? 

Photograph of a resident from the informal settlement wearing a mask

Before we come to a conclusion, a small study is necessary to separate myths from facts.

Myth no.1: We get adversely affected by COVID19 if we get vaccinated. 

Learning from the experts, COVID-19 vaccines are developed using science that has been around for decades. The vaccine has gone through all the required stages of clinical trials followed by extensive testing and trails. The end result shows it as safe and efficient with minor side effects which validate the effectiveness of the vaccine. In short, the COVID19 vaccine creates antibodies and none of the vaccines contain live virus that causes COVID19.

Myth no. 2: The COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility in men and women.

There is no such evidence that proves this point. The vaccine does not interact with a woman’s reproductive organs nor with men’s sperm production or fertility. Pregnant women are at a greater risk if infected with COVID, which is why it is essential to get vaccinated to prevent any pregnancy related issues. 

Myth no. 3: I’ve already been diagnosed with COVID-19, so I don’t need to get vaccinated.

Once a person recovers from COVID19, the body generates natural immunity and antibodies but that does not last for long. The person may get re-infected after a few months. That is the reason medical experts suggest COVID vaccine after 3 months of recovery. Studies have proved that vaccination provides a strong boost in protecting  people who have recovered from COVID-19.

Myth no. 4: Once I receive the COVID-19 vaccine, I no longer need to wear a mask.

While we understand the importance of getting vaccinated, it is equally true that no vaccine is 100% effective. Getting vaccinated does not mean we can go back to how life was earlier and move freely without masks. A vaccinated person might still be a carrier of the virus, even if they don’t feel sick. Thus, as per Government protocol, physical distancing, face masks and  handwashing is essential even after a person is vaccinated with both the doses of COVID19 Vaccine. 

While there are a lot of speculations and theories regarding the deadly COVID-19 virus, there is an imminent  danger that if you test positive, your entire family and those in contact with you are at high risk. The COVID-19 vaccine does not guarantee 100% protection from COVID-19 but it definitely helps in keeping oneself from getting seriously ill after testing positive. While the above explanations clear out most of the prevailing myths and strongly recommend vaccinations, individuals residing in the informal settlements may think differently. They live in dense settlements and are more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus than the general public, but aren’t still fully convinced about the benefits of vaccination.

Shelter Associates, an NGO working for the betterment of the urban poor in Maharashtra through sanitation and housing for the last 28 years, has done extensive research on understanding communities and their preferences with respect to the prevailing COVID-19 scenario. Data collated from every house reveals that communities are apprehensive about getting vaccinated since there are several rumors  and misinformation doing the rounds about the vaccine. 

Community Workers collecting data and mobilizing communities on COVID-19 Vaccination

Recognizing the need to educate communities and bust the vaccination myths, Shelter Associates has been conducting COVID-19 vaccination drives in the informal settlements in the cities of Pune, Kolhapur, Navi Mumbai and Thane to support the City Municipal Corporations and partner organisations. The broad objectives of the campaign are:

  • To mobilize communities to follow COVID Appropriate Behaviour and spread awareness through formal and informal activities as part of risk communication and community engagement strategy. 
  • To reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccine willingness and registration in the informal settlements
  • To distribute WASH supplies such as masks, sanitizers, wash basins at Community toilets, etc. which would ultimately contribute towards Infection prevention and control. 
  • Capacity building of community workers, self-help groups, community health workers, etc. who are equal contributors to the vaccination drive.  
  • To monitor and evaluate a system of evidence-based planning based on assessments for Covid response and preparedness.
COVID-19 Vaccination Camps being organised in the informal Settlements
Health Officers vaccinating the residents of informal settlements

The expertise and experience of Shelter Associates in bringing about a behavioural change among communities will go a long way in busting the myths and spreading positive information. Such vaccination drives are vital in  ensuring that maximum people residing in informal settlements get vaccinated and lead a healthy and virus-free life. 

Reference: Shelter Associates,


Over the years, the slum population in India has soared along with its growing urban population. Regarded as an area unsuitable for human habitation with deplorable sanitation conditions, slums in India often fight over concerns of good health and hygiene.

Traditionally, slum dwellers had to depend on Community sanitation as home toilets were not even considered as a possibility by the urban local bodies. As per the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), it is estimated that families residing in slum settlements are most likely to use community sanitation facilities as a solution to open defecation due to space and financial constraints in constructing a home toilet. However, for the first time with the launch of SBM, there was immense thrust given to providing household toilets in slums wherever possible.

Shelter Associates, an NGO working in seven cities of Maharashtra, have been focusing on improving the sanitation situation in the informal settlements through facilitation of household toilets. With SA’s focused efforts on the facilitation of home toilets, many slums have become ODF and ODF+ in these cities. However, there is always a small percentage of families who can get left out due to various constraints and continue to be dependent on Community toilets.

Beneficiary of an individual household toilet facilitated by Shelter Associates

Hence the moot question is how to create sustainable sanitation practices in the use of community toilets? This is especially important in the context of COVID19 with its concerns of community hygiene.

In settlements where SA has facilitated OHOT, the direct impact was the reduction of pressure on community toilets as more and more families opted for a home toilet. In some slums the Community toilet seat to family ratio is reduced between 1:2 to 1:4. Shelter Associates have therefore strategized on distributing the CTB toilet seats to individual families who do not own a home toilet. Every toilet seat within the CTB will be allocated to two or three resident families who would be responsible for its upkeep.

This will provide multiple benefits to the families; Firstly, it would eliminate waiting time. Secondly, since the seats would be used only by 2-3 families who would also undertake the cleanliness and upkeep of the toilets and keep it locked when not in use, they are likely to be well maintained. This will ease the maintenance burden on the ULB’s. This is a very well strategized solution that has been initiated in the city of Kolhapur, Maharashtra. Shelter Associates has collaborated with HT Parekh Foundation and Kolhapur Municipal Corporation for the Urban WASH project in 8 slum settlements of Kolhapur. These settlements house over 1200 families, out of which over 680 families use 19 Community Toilets. Shelter Associates have therefore initiated facilitation of household toilets wherever possible followed by advocacy with the ULB to repair/refurbish toilet seats where necessary, installation of hand wash stations and the CTB Seat Distribution in all these project slums as part of providing holistic sanitation solutions in the slums.

Analysing the CTB situation along with KMC Deputy Commissioner and other officials
Visiting families who are unable to opt for a home toilet due to space constraint

In one of the project slum settlements of Phulewadi in Kolhapur where the model is adopted, there are a total of 4 Community Toilet Blocks. After SA’s intervention in the slum through the household toilet facilitation, only 31 families comprising 132 individuals now use the CTB. With the reduced CTB seat to person ratio, it was decided to distribute the seats among families who were still dependent on the CTB. The Male and Female CTB toilet seats have been  distributed to families of that settlement after a series of consultation with the community.  Through this initiative, only the allocated families can use the toilet seat as they will be provided locks and keys for the same. They have also undertaken the responsibility of maintenance and upkeep of their allocated toilet.

Public event with the KMC officials and Phulewadi residents to announce the allocation of CTB seats
Map of Phulewadi (Kolhapur) showing gender-wise distribution of CTB seats to families

This model illustrates a win-win situation for all the stakeholders since it allows equal distribution of sanitation facilities to the communities while also lowering the maintenance burden on the Government bodies. This model has the potential to be scaled across 24 informal settlements of Kolhapur where the toilet seat to family ratio has reduced drastically. Scaling the project further, wherever possible, individual household toilets can be facilitated to create additional scope for allocating CTB seats to households who are unable to get a home toilet constructed.

This is a step in the direction of safe community sanitation. In this model there is a move to shift responsibility of maintenance from the ULB to the community by converting the status of the CTB from public to semi private toilets.

NO MASK NO TASK – An effort to encourage 100% mask use

It has been proven by medical experts and researchers across the world that the use of masks can slow down the spread of Corona Virus which is highly infectious and spreading rapidly across the globe.  It spreads mainly through respiratory droplets; and therefore, a good and correctly  placed mask not only protects oneself but also from spreading it to others. Having said that time and again, a large section of the population, also those living in the informal settlements are very casual and carefree about wearing masks, more so because they have a lot of misconceptions regarding COVID19 and sometimes due to the false beliefs that it won’t affect their locality/community. Although the lockdown has imposed strict restrictions on the movement of residents,  and strict code of conduct for business and commercial areas  across cities, there is a certain laxity in following the precautionary measures across all strata of the society.

Shelter Associates, an NGO working around the implementation of WASH in the informal settlements of Maharashtra, even during such challenging conditions, is mobilising slum communities around  household toilets  and COVID19 prevention. Observations from the communities suggest an urgent need to spread awareness on the use of masks  and its importance. Whether  buying regular grocery items, going to the medical store for medicines or visiting the community toilet; most of the residents prefer to go out without masks for their daily chores. Another thing noticed is that many people are wearing masks, but only partially covering the mouth and nose , which entirely defeats the purpose of wearing one. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Shelter Associates has initiated the ‘No Mask No Task’ campaign with the sole objective of creating awareness on 100% mask use in the informal settlements of Maharashtra. The campaign is active in the selected slum settlements of Navi Mumbai and Kolhapur.

Community Volunteers mobilizing residents on 100% mask use at public places

As a part of this campaign, the community volunteers visit door to door to educate families to use masks while moving out of their homes; inform shopkeepers and street vendors to strictly enforce the use of mask during transactions; communicate with CTB Caretakers to prevent residents from using the toilets unless they wear a proper mask while entering. For the success of this campaign, the community volunteers are trained extensively on COVID19 background, its spread and preventive measures. Unless fully convinced, they will not be in a position to effectively communicate the need for a mask, therefore SA has taken extra efforts in briefing communities and motivating people to follow related precautionary steps.

Informative posters being displayed within the slum vicinity

To make the campaign more effective, community volunteers have also printed eye-catching and informative posters while some created handmade posters in places where printing is not possible due to the lockdown. These posters are displayed at prominent places around the settlement such as shops, busy corners, Community Toilets etc., creating continuous visibility and making immediate visual impressions on its onlookers. The posters have been reaching a wide audience, especially in these densely packed slum areas where many people are likely to see them. Supporting the efforts of Shelter Associates, responsible residents within the community also play a pivotal role in the advocacy of mask use by creating posters and spreading awareness in the interest of other residents.

And now that we all are expecting to hit the third wave COVID19 which is projected to be much more harmful than the present wave, there exists a need for extensive mobilization where individuals are educated on the significance of mask use, within their communities. While it takes a lot of effort to create behavioural change among the people, if we don’t fight this war now, we will definitely fall victim to this pandemic. If a majority of people behave responsibly, we will certainly minimise the impact of this life-threatening catastrophe. Let’s be safe and keep others safe!

A small boy from the community displays a poster made by him


The last few months witnessed a major setback in the Indian Economy and the overall work space, especially the informal sector bearing the brunt. The COVID19 pandemic hit hard on the daily wage earners and the migrant labour. Work opportunities coming to a standstill, has constricted the livelihood of the labour class of people belonging to the construction industry working as masons, plumbers, ground diggers, tile fitting workers, painters, etc. who on an average, earn Rs.400 – Rs.500 per day.

Even while this adverse scenario continues to stay, a considerable contribution towards the livelihood of the people from this segment comes from Shelter Associates’ ‘One Home One Toilet’ initiative. This cost sharing sanitation model of facilitating household toilets to the families of urban slum settlements came into existence in the year 2013 and has now impacted the lives of over 1 lakh individuals directly through the facilitation of over 22000 home toilets. Not only has it led to healthier families through an improved sanitation facility, but also proved to be a livelihood opportunity for the skilled and unskilled labour mostly residing within the communities who are a part of the toilet construction process.

Cost of toilet  construction

Cost of toilet construction

While the pandemic led to unemployment and a halt in the construction projects, having a home toilet gained greater prominence considering the safety & hygiene threats involved with community sanitation. During such a crisis when the daily wage labour had to face financial miseries, the OHOT model of Shelter Associates provided livelihood to many skilled and unskilled labour who could see a source of income through the toilet construction work. The toilet construction further incentivised renovations and reconstruction of houses as a step towards an elevated standard of living, adding to the income of masons and other casual labour involved.

Toilet construction work in progress

Toilet construction work in progress

For the construction of 22000 household toilets, nearly 13,53,000 manhours were utilized. This meant more employment opportunities and a reduction in the transport cost as most of the masons and other labour involved in the toilet construction stayed in the immediate vicinity. Shelter Associates could thus leverage nearly 15.6 crores towards labours charges for drainage led toilets and close to Rs. 2.75 crores towards the labour for construction of septic tank toilets. Overall, Rs. 18.3 crores have been a revenue for the skilled and unskilled labour involved in the construction of 22000 individual household toilets, which is still counting.

“I have been working as a mason for several years. The situation of COVID19 and Lockdown impacted my work greatly as I had no job for almost 6 months. Shelter Associates’ intervention of donating toilet construction materials to the families was a major source of livelihood for me. I started getting regular income as the families approached me for their toilet construction work.”
– Kapanna Laxman Pathrut, Mason (Kanan Nagar, Kolhapur)

The ‘One Home One Model’ has proved to play a dual role in community development. One being the assurance of safety, hygiene and well-being to the toilet owners and the other to provide income opportunities to the labour community involved in getting a beautiful home toilet available to the needy families.

Completed beneficiary toilets

Completed beneficiary toilets