SAFAIGIRI AWARDS 2017
Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, Menstrual Hygiene Management and Nutrition Many forms of Progress.
When his NGO helped make Thandavampatti, a habitation of 62 homes in Tamil Nadu, Tiruchirappalli District, into India`s first open-defecation free (ODF) village in 2003, Gramalaya`s Founder S.Damodaran, 55, could not have imagined that the initiative would one day transform into a massive drive. Now, he runs a successful campaign for total sanitation in villages and slums across South India (excluding Kerala), and has already helped 47 villages and 100 slums achieve the ODF tag so far.
Gramalaya, launched in 1987, works towards a larger goal: integrated development of women and children in rural areas through economic and health empowerment. In the initial years, the major focus was on education about hygiene and safe drinking water, including the installation of India Mark II hand pumps with deep bore wells for the supply of drinking water. Soon, it discovered that among other problems, open defecation resulted in the pollution of surface water bodies and drinking water sources.
Damodaran changed the track. Rural intervention was planned to cover safe drinking water supply through hand pumps, piped water supply through individual tap connection and sanitary household toilets in the villages coupled with hygiene education. By switching to the comprehensive approach, Gramalaya has formed SHE (Sanitation and Hygiene Education) Teams and AWASH (Association for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Committees so that the community ownership could be enlisted for sustainablesanitation practices and development. By empowering the teams and committees, a sense of ownership grew in the communities being served, which led to long-lasting behavioral changes against OD and toward an open discharge free environment, says Damodaran. His outreach is through five thematic interventions : safe water, sustainable sanitation models, hygiene education including washing hands, menstrual hygiene management and nutrition.
The project areas of Gramalaya are provided with 100 percent sanitation coverage by promoting individual household toilet facilities. It works on a three-pronged strategy: health empowerment through toilets, safe drinking water and hygiene education and economic empowerment. This is done with the support of the government, corporate social responsibility initiatives and donor organization, including banks, who provide microfinance loans for sanitation. Considering the delays in the granting of incentives (subsidies) for toilet construction to individual families form the government, Gramalaya founded GUARDIANS (Gramalaya Urban and Rural Development Initiatives and Network for Sanitation), which offers sanitation loans to women to build toilets, thus easing the pressure on government agencies.
Another of Damodaran`s initiatives is the SMART- Safe/Sustainable, Maintainable, Affordable, Recyclable and Technically perfect- toilet concept Innovative methods are being made use of for waste management, including the recycling of waste into manure via composting and the use of bath water to raise kitchen gardens. Damodaran is also responsible for the development of 24 low-cost toilet models, including child-friendly toilets, water-saving toilet pans, baby pans, community-managed pay- and -use toilet systems, school health intervention systems and even a center for toilet technology and training. This has prompted other NGOs to approach him to provide training on water, sanitation and community development. The UNDP designed pour-flush twin pit toilet with a diversion chamber, for example, is one model that has seen successful promotion.
Gramalaya has helped in more ways than one. It has helped create a safe, hygienic environment, thereby handling issues of safety and reducing healthcare costs that were high in families who had no recourse but to defecate in the open. Overall lifestyle has improved because of the availability of toilets at their doorsteps. "The initial challenges we faced were in mobilizing the community to create a demand for the toilets, educating them about their use and hygiene and maintenance, besides designing technically perfect toilet models so suit different terrains," recalls Damodaran. "other issues were in raising funds to provide more toilets and working with like minded organizations.
Having successfully executed model projects in rural, urban, coastal and tribal areas with its toilets, strategies and approaches in the south, Gramalaya is planning to reach five more states in north India and scale up operations for making an OD- free India. The big clean-up, aimed at reaching 10 million households with sustainable sanitation in the next five years to supplement the efforts of the Swachh Bharat Mission, is part of its national commitment. Damodaran`s goal is to contribute by helping build toilets in one of every ten of those homes.