Getting Oriented: A New Perspective on Going to the Bathroom

SPS is a radical organization. I write this in the sense that its work has been revolutionary in empowering the villages of the Dewas district. Working with state schemes and local institutions, the SPS programs have shifted many of the imbalanced power dynamics that occur in the daily lives of villagers, particularly the families of farmers and landless laborers. During this past week of orientation, we have been able to learn first-hand about the operations and impacts of these programs through field visits guided by some of the SPS professionals. One project in particular, the sanitation program, highlighted the potential of the NGO’s work.

Also referred to as “toilets”, the sanitation program aims to promote construction of in-home bathrooms through work with the women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs). Until speaking with some of the SHG members, I did not realize the impact of an in-home toilet on a woman’s security and health. We were able to hear about the experiences of the some of the women in the village of Hatpipaliya from one of the SHG members in the process of installing a toilet for her own home.

Without a toilet, women in the village typically take a wash bucket to a near-by forested area for privacy when going to the bathroom. The walk to the trees with a bucket incurs public shame, so to avoid the ridicule, the women make a once daily trip to the bathroom in the early morning before many of the villagers are awake. However, having a regular bathroom schedule in the open woods has resulted in instances of harassment and assault from men who have learned the routine, which forces the women to go in groups once a day. Aside from the social consequences, the once daily bathroom trip has had some health impacts, including increased cases of urinary tract infections for these women without in-home toilets.
The sanitation program makes installing the toilets, or rather in-ground pits connected to a septic tank, more affordable for the women through loans given out by the SHG. The SHG acts as an alternative to local money-lenders and loan sharks whose high interest rates result in debilitating indebtedness, particularly for the population of illiterate and laborer women. By pooling together the small savings of a group of ten to twenty women of a village, the women have access to greater loan capacities from the bank. The sanitation loan is a new loan offered through the SHG, which covers the construction cost of a two-pit toilet with a low interest for repayment to the group.
Despite the access to funds for and the benefits of in-home toilets, many women have been reluctant to take the loan. Installation of a two-pit toilet requires a substantial amount of space that is not usually available in the village homes. The ground above the pit must be cleared so that the pit can be uncovered for cleaning every ten years. Unfortunately, many families do not have the space or require what free space they do have for extra sleeping rooms. One-pit toilets do not require as much space, but they are significantly more costly for initial construction and long-term maintenance costs, which exceed the amount of the sanitation loan.
The woman with whom we spoke is a 55 year old widow and is entering her last year of participation in her local SHG. She has received the sanitation loan, but is looking for other funds, as she has opted to construct the more expensive one-pit toilet to conserve space in her home. She hopes to serve as an example for use of the sanitation loan in her village. In addition, the SPS media team is currently making a documentary film focusing on sanitation and toilets in Hatpipaliya that will be used to educate women throughout the region about the process of acquiring and benefits of an in-home toilet. While the initial adoption of the sanitation loan has been slow, SPS will see future impacts on the near-by communities through outreach and education efforts in the SHGs.
Throughout this past week, we have been able to hear similar stories about how the multitude of SPS projects have changed the daily lives of farmers, women, laborers, and the community as a whole. Orientation week has been an informative introduction to SPS and the region, and it has given us an understating of the scope of our project. We will be documenting stories of recent SPS projects and initiatives through field visits, interviews, and case studies. These stories will evaluate the factors contributing to the successes or shortcomings of the projects. Areas of focus will include the promotion of crop diversity for farmers, the Participatory Groundwater Managment (PGWM) program, and other SHG and alternative livelihood initiatives. With a new understanding of our location and the people SPS serves, I am inspired to dive deeper into the projects.
Side note: The rains have begun, and they are intimidating. The monsoon storms seem to hurricanes compacted into the length of an hour. But, water storage is rising and the green landscape is spreading. A transformation of seasons is underway.
Let it rain,

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About Andrew Shannon

UPenn Earth and Environmental Sciences '15, Masters of Science in Applied Geosciences '16 Intern with SPS for the summer of 2015 in Bagli, Madhya Pradesh