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.
During a focus group discussion on 24th June 2013, with senior women in the Khulewadi community, it was decided that a ghanta ghadi solid waste collection system would start at the beginning of July 2013. The ghanta ghadi solid waste collection system commenced on 1st July 2013.
The service is provided at a cost of 30 rupees per family per month and allows the slum families to hand their household waste to a person who walks through the slum with a ghanta ghadi (trolley or small vehicle). The effectively means that the slum dwellers of Khulewadi are paying to getting access to a service which is available (at the same cost) to all other citizens of the city and it also means that less waste will be deposited on the open land which surrounds the community on three sides.
To complement this waste collection service bins were handed out on the 27th July 2013. Each family received two receptacles so that they can segregate their ‘wet’ household waste from their ‘dry’ household waste; that is to say their biodegradable waste from their non-biodegradable waste.
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.
Shelter Associates has been chosen from among 160 NGO’s across India as the winner of the Dasra Giving Circle grant for supporting a city-wide urban sanitation program in Pune over the next 3 years.
Dasra, India’s leading strategic philanthropy foundation, undertook a process to determine which NGO’s in India are doing work which: (1) has a direct impact on urban sanitation, (2) has the ability to reach high volunmes, (3) has links with the government, and (4) has a sanitation model which is scaleable. Dasra researched over 160 NGO’s and identified 15 organisations for visiting. Dasra came to Shelter Associates Pune office to meet with the Executive Director and the Shelter Associates team to learn about the history, philosophy, working methodology of the NGO. Site visits were also conducted so that the Dasra representatives could interact with Shelter Associates project beneficiaries to witness impact on the ground. Of the 15 organisations visited 9 were determined by Dasra as being organisations which could deliver high quality at scale. The 9 organisation were then whitled down through an internal process within the Dasra team to identify 3 organisation who would be invited to present to the Dasra Giving Circle (DGC), a group of 15 philanthropic individuals who all pledge an equal amount into a collective pool which is awarded to 1 of the 3 presenting organisations. Shelter Associates gave a presentation to the DGC which focussed on the evolution of the organisations model for providing individual sanitation in the urban and peri-urban slums and described how the individual sanitation model would be scaled up to cover Pune in a city-wide slum sanitation project. The 15 DGC members cast their votes which resulted in a Shelter Associates victory.
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From 30th November to the 2nd December 2012 Shelter Associates attended (and part sponsored) the World Bank’s Sanitation Hackathon. This was a global event involving multiple cities across the globe where software engineers gathered together for an intense exercise to create applications for mobile technology which can help to address the issue of sanitation.
As part of the Sanitation Hackathon, Shelter Associates wrote a problem statement (design brief) which suggested that the software engineers produce a mobile application which would allow data collected within the slums to be directly uploaded to the Shelter Associates On-line Survey System. While all of the software engineers who attended the hackathon in Pune chose to work on other problem statements many of them expressed interest in working with Shelter Assoicates on our problem statement after the event.