Students promote sanitation practices in Mewat, Haryana

One-third of the world’s 2.5 billion people without sanitation facilities live in India (WHO/UNICEF). Seventy percent of rural Indians (around 550 million), practice open defecation. In summer 2015, five students from the University of Florida, USA, began a Nourish International project to promote Swachh Bharat Mission, working with village councils in two villages of Mewat, Haryana, to make a difference in this area.

The students tried to find answers. Here’s how . . .

Academia-NGO partnership

Nourish International, a nonprofit organization that engages students and empowers communities to make a lasting impact on extreme poverty, joined hands with Sehgal Foundation in India on a project: Promoting Swachh Bharat Mission through village councils in two villages of Mewat, Haryana. The project funded by Nourish International was launched by the students from the University of Florida, who worked in Mewat from June 29–Aug 7, 2015.

The group worked passionately with the community members and came up with pictorial Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials in easy-to-understand language in order to teach people about the benefits of toilets at home.

The goals were SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound)

  • Promote clean villages by engaging 20 women members and 200 children on hygiene and sanitation issues.
  • Promote open-defecation-free villages with the use of household latrines.
  • Increase awareness of members of women’s councils and village health sanitation and nutrition committees.
  • Identify six women role models engaged in sanitation drives in villages.
  • Ensure the dignity of girls in two schools by providing separate toilet blocks.

Women speak up

The students conducted various focus group discussions with village women, which gave them an opportunity to speak about their issues.

“When we get our periods and have to go out in the open for defecation, we feel cursed being a woman. We can’t even share our problems with anyone because open defecation has been the norm. Moreover, we don’t have any other alternative.”

“The defecation site for men and women is earmarked, but there is always a possibility that someone will be passing by. We have to keep looking in every direction for the passersby. If we see some boys or men standing or crossing, we have to stand up and then sit again when they are gone.”

“Rumors of affairs are so common in villages if a girl and boy are seen coming or going in one direction for open defecation. Just the coinciding timing leads to such comments. One day, I myself was late to return back and I heard my family comment that I might be going around with someone. I even fear this for my daughters.”

Way forward

The second batch of University of Florida students who will participate in 2016 will study the results produced by this project. Once the project is complete, Sehgal Foundation will periodically measure the impact of the project in six months, one year, and two years after completion.