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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
As part of the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”, the Government of India conducts ‘Swachh Sarvekshan’ which is an annual survey of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation in cities and towns across India. Through interactions with States and ULBs, every city felicitates individuals and organizations who have played an active role in creating cleaner cities.
Recognizing the contribution of Shelter Associates towards facilitating safe sanitation in the urban slum settlements, creating awareness & relief campaigns during COVID19 and impacting the lives of many through various WASH projects, GIS experts and Community Workers from the organization were honored during a felicitation ceremony organized by Pune Municipal Corporation on 9th February 2021.
The dignitaries present at the ceremony were Madhav Jagtap (Head of Solid Waste Department and Deputy Commissioner, PMC), Kunal Khemnar (Additional Deputy Commissioner, PMC), Asha Raut (Ghole Road Regional Officer and Assistant Commissioner, PMC), Avanti Kadam (Head CSR, Cummins Corporation) among others.
GIS experts Pradeep Waje and Tanaji Raut and Community Workers Dilip Kamble, Birudev Changire, Sanjay More, Sunita Gurav, Soni Chavan and Subodhini Dhavare were honored with certificates and bouquets by the dignitaries.
Shelter Associates (SA), a Civil Society Organization founded in 1993, comprising architects, GIS experts, social workers, community workers and volunteers have carried extensive work in areas of cost-effective housing, basic infrastructural facilities, health, hygiene and sanitation while inspiring behavioural change in the slum dwellers. We work towards empowering communities living in informal settlements to pursue their right to dignity and sustainable life.
In this article, we talk about our approach of moving from Paper based field data collection to Kobo Toolbox, and then finally to Avni. We share some lessons learnt and explain the advantages we see of an offline-based Android app for form data capture.
One of the organisation’s core competencies lies in its data-driven approach. We follow a rigorous process of collecting data through surveys and mapping efforts. The slum data collected by the team is spatially organised using GIS software and presented as an overlay on Google Earth remote sensing imagery. The collated data is used for inclusive urban planning and implementing affordable housing and sanitation schemes across the slums in Maharashtra. You can see live dashboards on our website. Our data-driven approach using technology to plan citywide strategies for social housing has impacted the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) policy of GOI.
In 2013 we undertook a landmark project ‘One Home One Toilet’ to deliver household toilets on a cost-sharing basis. The data-driven initiative follows a community-centric and an inclusive approach wherein it works closely with the municipal corporations right from validating data to toilet delivery. As of September 2020, SA has surveyed around 2,93,000 households for successful implementation of OHOT. It has impacted over 3,70,000 people directly & indirectly with a home toilet.
From Paper-based system to a digital system using KoboToolbox
In the early years of implementing various schemes, be it affordable housing or delivery of sanitation, data was collected through pen-paper surveys. Over the years we have shifted to other, more technological driven means of data collection. In 2016, we shifted our collection system to the Android-based open-source platform of KoBoToolbox. Kobo is one of the most popular data collection tools in development sector. It provides an offline mobile app for data collection, a web app for designing forms and an option to extract collected data for further analysis.
Moving to Kobo certainly was a good step forward but we soon started facing limitations with it.
Limitations with KoboToolbox
1. Lack of ability to view and update records from the mobile app
KoboCollect does not support offline editing of records once submitted. It requires internet and is too complex as described in this link. Lack of any alternative for modifications forced us to survey the households repeatedly where data needed to be updated. With the increasing scale of interventions in different slums across cities, this was not a viable solution for long.
2. Form-based data model as against Case-based
If we have to submit 50 responses for a slum, same slum name is to be entered 50 times. This slows down the work. Moreover, there was no way to validate to ensure the name entered is correct. Ideally, we would want a way to be able to pick from an available list or a dropdown. There are workarounds but no native case management support in KoboToolbox.
While exploring solutions for these problems we came across the Avni application in a workshop organised by Tech4Dev platform in Pune. This open-source platform, with a rich data modelling approach, an offline app for data recording, web app for admin & form designing and different options to extract data, promised to solve the problems we were facing.
Initially, we started with the city of Kolhapur as a pilot. We first migrated our data from Kobo to Avni which turned out to be simple. Kobo provides a way to export data in excel and Avni provides a way to upload/import using CSV files. After importing the existing data, we soon initiated the data collection using Avni. To carry out the modifications accurately we trained our surveyors to use the application, fill in different types of forms and update any filled in data as per the required changes. The users found it easy and the pilot worked out really well. Thus we decided to adopt Avni for all our work and started using it for the Pune region as well.
Benefits of moving to Avni from Kobo Collect
Below are the key differences and benefits we are noticing of using Avni over Kobo. We are listing these down for the benefit of those considering both these options for field work.
1. Ability to design a custom app using locations, subject, programs and forms from Avni data model
The most important difference between the two softwares is that Avni provided us with the ability to create app as per our data model and data collection process. We created our location hierarchy of City, Ward and Slums using locations; households are created as subjects and separate forms for different vertical services like property tax, solid waste management, metered water connection, etc.
This provided us with 2 benefits
a. Avoid repetitive data collection
We register the household once and whenever a new service is provided, we record a new form by choosing an already registered household. This was not possible in Kobo and saves time and is very convenient to get real-time data.
b. Well modelled and segregated data enabling easy access to a subset of the entire data of a particular house
In the near future, household-level data collected can be shared and accessed with various departments of the Municipal Corporation to ensure work is carried out effectively. Data for sanitation, property tax, solid waste management, metered water connection, etc. once shared to the Municipal Corporation can be accessed for service delivery. For example, once a particular service like a metered water connection is provided to a household, the filled-in data can be retrieved and updated from a shared water connection to a metered water connection. As we collect and share data on different sectors, we can disintegrate it as per requirement and send it across various departments of the Municipal Corporation to link and use the collected data simultaneously. Once services are delivered the household data will be updated by our surveyors or the Municipal Corporation (if shared/access provided) and used further for monitoring tax collection, solid waste management, etc.
2. Ability to search, view and update records anytime in the mobile app
As described earlier, in Kobo Collect once the data is submitted it is not possible to view and edit them. In Avni, the records always stay in the device even after submitting to the server. They can be modified and synchronized again with the server. This is really helpful in the field!
3. Ability to control access of data to surveyors based on their work areas
Another useful feature is the assignment of the catchment. The administrator can give access or remove access of any particular catchment to any surveyor. This has enabled us to maintain the privacy of the information as well.
4. Hassle free modification of forms
Avni supported easy modification of app design including forms without having to redeploy or losing data. This customized, editable solution for data collection has made our work effective and greatly reduced the efforts to maintain updated household-level data.
Smita Kale, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at Shelter Associates, shares about their journey of moving from Paper based data collection to digital systems, first using Kobo Toolbox and then to Avni.
Article published at https://avniproject.org/blog/shelter-journey-remoulding-data-collection-paper-kobotoolbox-avni/
According to UNICEF, 2 billion people across the world still do not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. Of these, 673 million defecate in the open. Open defecation is a problem because it allows for high-potential of bacteria being transferred through feces leading to large-scale health problems. Moreover, open defecation also inflicts safety concerns on women, causes distress to the elderly and disabled and poses environmental risks.*
Despite several parts of India being declared as open defecation free, hygienic sanitation continues to be a problem in the country. A study conducted in 2018 showed that residents of between 30-70% of urban slums in India in fact did not have access to safe and convenient toilets**
Recognizing the problems posed by open defecation as well as community toilets that have their own set of disadvantages; Shelter Associates (SA), a Pune based NGO providing safe sanitation and affordable housing to the urban poor focuses on facilitating individual household toilets through its data driven, replicable, scalable and multi-stakeholder inclusive ‘One Home One Toilet’ (OHOT) model.
The Local Project Challenge, a collaboration between academic and social organizations, has honored Shelter Associate’s ‘One Home One Toilet’ initiative with the LPC Honour Award 2020 at the U.N.-Habitat World Urban Forum 10 in Abu Dhabi.
The World Urban Forum, organized by UN-Habitat, “is the foremost international gathering for exchanging views and experiences on sustainable urbanization. The inclusive nature of the Forum, combined with high-level participation, makes it a unique United Nations conference and the premier international gathering on urban issues”.
The project was presented for the Civil Society category, announced as part of the “Accelerating the SDGs through the Local Project Challenge” seminar. The Local Project Challenge is a partnership between the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at The Earth Institute, Columbia University and the Faculty of Architecture, Federal University, Rio de Janeiro, and builds on the Global Studio and People Building Better Cities programs.
Coming straight from the director of the Local Project Challenge, Dr. Anna Rubbo says “Congratulations on your Local Project Challenge Honor Award. We hope the award helps support your excellent work”
An international panel of judges reviewed the 110 organisations under the categories of Civil Society, Education and Professional and honored Shelter Associates under the Civil Society category. The list of awardees can be viewed here: https://localprojectchallenge.org/awards/
The “One Home One Toilet” project fits in perfectly with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 – “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all”. OHOT facilitates toilets that are not only well-designed but have also proven to be long-term solutions to the problem of open defecation, thus actively contributing to SDG Goal6.
It was a significant moment when 3 women from the Sanjay Park vasahat (colony) from Pune city were felicitated by the Vimaan Nagar Residents Association (VNRA) on this year’ International Women’ day for the extra-ordinary feat of showcasing their presence in a dynamic environment wherein they had contributed immensely in the social sector in the Nagar road ward. VNRA is an organization which takes the note of contribution of women in the society and motivates them by providing them a platform whereupon they can further develop their abilities. It was a wonderful experience for Mrs. Surekha Borkar, Mrs. Nisha Sasane, and Mrs. Yashoda Manjalkar who bagged the prestigious award from their neighborhood community as a token of appreciation.
It was understood that the water supply to the Sanjay Park colony was disconnected in the last week. It took no more than few minutes for Mrs. Borkar to get hold of the stock and then march to the ward office for lodging a formal complaint. Based on her proactive steps, the authorities were forced to appreciate the complaint and restore the water supply within few hours. The quintessential part of this moment was the display of raw but well-controlled courage by the women of Sanjay Park, and hence such actions give justice to the recognition which they received on the special occasion of Women’ day.
It is widely acknowledged that the International Women’ day marks the occasion on which women, all over the world, are respected, appreciated, and loved for their political, economic, and social achievements. However, not limiting to just one day (8th March), it should be held, i.e. celebrated and lived for all 365 days and the invisible patriarchal attitude behind any “unjust felicitations” should be unanimously resisted and such individuals or groups should be immediately dis-empowered.
Blog written by Gaurav, Senior Social worker with Shelter Associates
As a volunteer architect at Shelter Associates, I was interested in observing how the urban poor live in Pune. As part of the “One Home, One Toilet” project, I also wanted to see what impacts the construction of an individual toilet had on small spaces and what percentage of space in a house was dedicated to daily personal hygiene.
In order to determine this impact, I began to measure randomly selected houses: 61 houses from 4 slums in which Shelter Associates is/ has been active – Prem Nagar and Rajiv Gandhi Nagar in Pune, Rajendra Nagar in Kolhapur and Idgah Nagar in Sangli/Miraj – were included in this sample. While taking these measurements, I gathered information about how space in the house was used before the construction of the toilet and how much money the family spent on the construction of the toilet and on other improvements to the house.
From then on, I didn’t go into the field without my tape measure and I always insisted on understanding how space within the home was utilized before and after the construction of the individual toilet.
The houses included in my sample measure, by average, 212 sq ft (19.7 m2) and are occupied by an average of approximately 4.6 people; this means that one person has only 46 sq ft (4.3 m2) at his or her disposal.
Due to limited interior space, I noticed that slum dwellers use the space in front of their doors as the extension of their homes. Indeed, lots of activities take place in the streets, from clothes washing to grain sorting. It is also a place to chat with family members or neighbors and a playground for children.
Most of the households for which Shelter Associates provided material to build an individual toilet had a bathroom in their home prior to construction of their toilet. These bathrooms were used purely as washrooms, while defecation took place in community toilet blocks.
From my investigations, I discovered that before Shelter Associates’ intervention, the bath area measured an average of 15 sq ft (1.4 m2) and occupied 7% of the house; after intervention, the newly-built toilet and bathroom area measured 29 sq ft (2.7 m2) and took up 13.5 % of the house area. Despite the small size of their houses, Shelter beneficiaries were willing to devote more space within their home for an individual toilet.
Moreover, I found that, while the average monthly income of the selected households is Rs. 10,600, the beneficiaries spent an average of Rs. 29,000 on toilet construction and home renovations. This amount of money includes labor charges and extra material needed, like tiles, bricks and cement.
In the settlements I visited, the bathroom was usually a space inside the house defined by a half-length or full-length brick wall. In order to provide additional privacy, metal containers were sometimes stacked on top of half-length walls or a curtain was hung over the door opening. In most cases, the new toilet was an enclosed space – Shelter Associates considers the toilet complete only if it has a door – built at the location of the former bathroom and combining a bath area and a toilet. However, the bathroom space and the toilet could also be located in separate spaces. In fact, toilets have different dimensions and are equipped differently according to each house’s size and layout as well as household’s needs and financial means. That is what makes visiting so many houses in different settlements so fun!
During my field visits, I was struck by how every informal settlement is different depending on its surroundings and its location within the city. Prem Nagar, for instance, is a settlement located in the city center of Pune, squeezed between the Market Yard and housing complexes, and is organized lengthways along access roads. All houses in the settlement are pucca or semi-pucca – houses built of hard material like bricks – and the house improvements resulting from the construction of the toilet were in most cases only inside of the house to be seen.
Rajiv Gandhi Nagar – a settlement located in a peri-urban area alongside the Mula Mutha river – was composed exclusively of kutcha houses – houses built of impermanent material like tin sheets – before Shelter Associates’ intervention. Construction of individual toilets brought major changes to people’s lives, as it provided the impetus for households to rebuild homes using bricks and concrete (pucca) material. These improvements bring additional comfort in everyday life, not only because the household now has access to their own toilet, but also because pucca walls provide greater protection from rain, wind and heat. In some houses, meals were prepared on the floor as the household wasn’t equipped with a kitchen platform. These households took advantage of the construction work to build a kitchen platform. You’ll probably be surprised as well at the outstanding creativity some of the inhabitants showed in the building process!
While most households in Prem Nagar and in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar constructed a single space for both the bathroom and the toilet, in Rajendra Nagar and Idgah Nagar, some households constructed separate spaces. To my surprise, while the bathroom was accessible from the inside of the house, many residents chose to construct access to the toilet exclusively from the outside of the house. It is a choice that might not make sense for some of us, especially considering the pouring rain the area gets during rainy season. Slum dwellers, however, often have hygienic concerns about constructing a toilet inside their homes. Some of them, for example, fear the bad smell that could result in the use of the toilet. In Prem Nagar, some inhabitants told me they were afraid that rodents might crawl out of the toilet pan or that the drainage line might get choked. Some residents also thought that it was unhygienic to eat and cook next to the toilet. The households that were already using their toilet didn’t report any problems, however, and they were happy with the new facility.
In Idgah Nagar, a middle-aged woman said that even though she had constructed a toilet in her house two months earlier, which her children use, she had yet to use the toilet. After defecating in the open for 40 years – the settlement doesn’t have any community toilet blocks – , she had not yet adapted to having a toilet in her home. However, she said that she used the toilet at her work place without problems.
It has been observed that slum dwellers – especially adults – who are used to defecating in the open or using the community toilet blocks, will need up to two months to start using the toilet. That’s why Shelter Associates tries to encourage people to use the toilet by talking about the issue in focused group discussion with the community and by organizing street plays on the topic.
In Idgah Nagar, I heard several other interesting stories. One family explained that construction of the toilet had brought the wife and children back to the house. The wife didn’t want to live with her husband because his house didn’t have a toilet. She came back to her husband’s house with their two children immediately after completion of the toilet. Another family decided to build a brick house equipped with a toilet in place of the bamboo house they had been living in: their son was able to get married because of the nice house they now lived in.
Providing the urban poor with the opportunity to construct an individual toilet isn’t only about improving sanitary conditions in slums; it is also about inspiring residents to make other positive improvements to their lives and their homes! It is about fostering creativity and empowering the urban poor.
If you would like to know more about the “One Home, One Toilet” project, please check out our flyers on the website for more interesting stories.
It only remains for me to thank Reshma, Aishwarya, Pradeep, Dhananjay, Mohan, Noorjahan and Shubah from Shelter Associates for accompanying me in the field and for translating from Marathi to English. Thanks to Moira for proofreading my texts. Finally, I also would like to express my gratitude to the whole Shelter Associates team for their kindness and for giving me the opportunity to do these very interesting investigations.
The impressive GDP growth rate in India over the last decade has made way for an ever growing poverty gap. With urban population expanding at an explosive rate, it has become difficult for the cities to cope with the sudden influx of the poor populous. Slums have popped up overnight and the lack of planning at city level for informal settlements has made it very difficult for these people to access basic facilities such as sanitation, water, and electricity. This is a matter of social justice that has been neglected in our country since decades.
On the 7th January 2016, the National Summit on Sustainable Water and Sanitation will be held to deliberate on the water and sanitation needs of India. The panel discussions will be attended by dignitaries from the government as well as the private sector. This is a huge opportunity for members from these sectors to interact and collaborate on matters. The forum will be extremely useful in highlighting best practices that are being implemented across the country that can be emulated in other cities.
We at Shelter Associates are thrilled to be supporting this event. Follow this link to be a part of the summit!
On 1st August, the birth anniversary of Late Annabhau Sathe, in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, Pimple Gurav, we witnessed a very innovative program which saw community children coming together to raise awareness regarding the necessity of individual toilets and hygiene. As a new volunteer at Shelter Associates, I was thrilled at the prospect of working with these children. I had never worked with children from slum settlements before that day and the experience that I underwent will never be forgotten. A member of a small team of three, I was really excited to have gotten the opportunity to take a peek into these eager minds.
The workshop began with an awareness rally where kids promoted health, hygiene & cleanliness by holding placards and urging elder people to join them. Then a ‘Baal-Panchaayat’ was arranged where kids were engaged in conversation with the authorities in charge. PCMC Chief Engineer, Mr. Sanjay Kulkarni, Pimple Gurav Police Inspector, Mr. Shinde and Shabana Diler of Shelter Associates, aptly answered all the daring queries raised by the young minds. After the serious discussion, the kids enjoyed a drawing competition where they poured their fresh ideas onto paper with the right competitive spirit. Later we conducted an exercise where kids painted the plastered walls of newly built individual toilets by Shelter Associates with different murals. I felt like I had been thrown back into my childhood for those two hours. The program ended with everyone enjoying tasty snacks. I was overcome with a feeling of content.
There were a few moments that caught my attention during the busy day. During the Panchaayat a 7 year old young lady held the mic and urged everyone to not call her settlement, a zopadpatti (slum). We could see they had strong faith, that even through the difficulties, there is a way out with all of us working together. The drawing competition also was a clear reflection of their views about the entire issue. Finally, when the kids had a moment of self-evaluation after a busy day of having fun, we saw the determination to bring the desired change in their bright eyes. As grownups, it’s often difficult to explain something to adults, but the kids absorbed issues very quickly while teaching us a lot. Here is an essence of the discussions that kids had with the authorities…
Open defecation and the diseases spread by its improper treatment is a problem that causes discomfort on daily basis. This becomes a major crisis due to the lack of awareness about the topic. While the Government and Administration are trying their best to make the basic amenities available to all, some efforts at the individual or group level are essential. NGOs like Shelter Associates play a vital role in mobilizing people towards a better cause. Mr. Kulkarni insisted everyone on participating in Shelter’s “One Home One Toilet” scheme to see the community liberated from the years old malpractices and the evil cycle that follows.
The zeal and passion that the children showed on that day really moved me. Their little voices contained so much weight that it made me truly understand what our dear artiste Pablo Picasso always told us.. “Every child is an artist. The problem is to stay one while growing up..”
Menstruation, as natural a process as it is, never really turns out to be a topic discussed in groups or in most other forums–even in well off or middle class societies. Imagine the situation in low income communities: A girl getting her period for the first time asks her mother what it is. In reply she hears “Abhi tum badi ho gaye…bas ….har mahina aayega…pad use karo…aur is time mein puja mat karo aura char mat khao” (Now you have grown up….every month you are going to get it…just use pads…do not worship god and do not eat pickles). So instead of explaining that it is a natural process and how the entire menstrual cycle works and sharing pros and cons of menstrual hygiene, our girls just grow up with the knowledge that menstruation is a taboo and a 5-7 day punishment given to women, forcing them to refrain from various things (ranging from not washing their hair, not cooking, not eating sour things …. the list just continues). At the same time, if a girl does not start menstruating by 15, anxiety sets in as the sign of their fertility is missing. Having worked for 2 years in low income communities of Pune, the most sensitive section during Focus Group Discussions (FGD’s) involving adolescent girls and women, has always been on “menstruation.” In a particular slum in Pune (More Vasti, Sahakar Nagar Ward) a discussion with the girls which was supposed to last for an hour actually lasted for 3 hours as the girls didn’t want to let go of their opportunity for
talking and knowing about menstruation. For them it was the first time in their lives that somebody had even given them any forum to freely talk and deliberate about this topic. They had all kinds of questions: why does it happen, what to eat, what not to eat, how many times to change, what to do if I have an irregular cycle, what to do if I have recurrent stomach aches… As they heard answers to all of their questions, they could not stop giggling. The smiles on their faces remain etched in my memory still and will always remain. However, with women, a different aspect comes out: that of disposing the pad. As in most Community Toilet Blocks (CTBs), dumping of pads in the block, pads being tucked in the windows, and pads being thrown in the toilet pans is a very common sight. Very few women and girls actually practice proper disposal of pads (ideally where the pads are supposed to be wrapped in a newspaper and disposed in the garbage bin). Even those who have existing temporary enclosures or bathrooms used for urination known as “moris” in their houses have problems. During menstruation each time they urinate they have to clean it with phenyl as they fear any male member could end up seeing the “blood” stains. For many women and girls, changing the pads and dumping the same in the toilet block is the only option. They live in an 8’x8’ sized house with 5-7 members and there is no private enclosure. Some male or other member of the household could come in any moment. Changing their pad is probably the last thing which ever crosses their minds. This leads to deleterious impact on their hygiene and many suffer from urinary tract infections and rashes as they do not change their pads on time. But post an individual toilet and these problems just get eliminated on their own as for the first time these women and girls find privacy and “their own space” in this toilet that they can use it at their own convenience.