Friday, April 16, 2010

Turning Dollars into Dignity: Toilet Tale #1

Triloka Naiya poses by her toilet that she purchased with a loan from Water For People. Photo by Kim Lemme

As part of our Run to End the Runs campaign, I'll include a blog on sanitation with each race. Here's the first one from my recent trip to India...

There are more people in the state of West Bengal, India, than in the countries in Latin America where we work. Visiting Water For People’s rural Indian programs earlier this year, I was struck by how the rural areas were denser than the peri-urban programming we are beginning outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia. There are people. Everywhere.

Which makes going to the bathroom a challenge. A big one. Worse if you are a woman, since biological and social constraints make doing your business on the railroads or the fields less of an option. India is rather famous in the sanitation circles because of it’s’ approach to the millions who lack toilets. The Government of India has adopted a particular methodology-Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS)-as its national policy to encourage the construction and use of toilets. CLTS departs radically from traditional supply-driven toilet programs that measure their success on the numbers of toilets constructed. The goal of CLTS, however, is open defecation free (i.e. nobody pooping in anything but a hole) communities. The national government even provides monetary rewards to local governments whom achieve this open defecation free status.

As part of the program, the government obliges “BPL” families-below poverty level-families to accept a heavy concrete squatting plate and pan-basically the floor of a toilet. Water For People—India has seen than these options are technologically weak and often collapse or flood during the monsoons. What Water For People—India and its partners have taken the time to learn, though, is that just because you are considered “poor” you don’t want a poor solution. When obliged to take something that is not really desired, many find alternate uses; I have seen many a toilet squatting platform being used to grind flour, not “grind one out” as my husband does each morning.

So they have taken a complementary approach to the massive problem of having nowhere to run when you’ve got to go in India. Nearly every rural village has some form of micro-finance group or self-help group; they range from informal to government regulated banks that loan very small amounts of money to individuals and groups. Over the past three years, nearly 5, 000 toilets-toilets that people WANT-a huge precondition for them to actually being used and maintained-have been built. 28,807 people now have somewhere to run to. The beauty of the program lies in its revolving fund; the ‘one-time’ investment does not exist. Repaid loans become new loans, turning dollars into dignity, over and over again.

This is why we are Running to End the Runs. It’s do-able. It’s necessary. Join us.

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