This summary is given with deep thanks and appreciation to our mentors and inspiration: Gopaldada, Jayeshbhai and Ishwardada, Kanchanmama, Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave.
Overview of Programmes:
The team at ESI consisting of Suresh, Shaliesh, Snehal and Nayanaben has given attention and support to three different villages in Gujarat, India over the past six months. They are: Amiyapur in Gandhinagar, Vanthal in Ahmedabad, and Pedhamali in Messina.
Through thorough baseline surveys in each community; we gathered key demographic and infrastructure information that helped us tailor our programmes to suit the needs of each village. We never seek to impose projects and activities that are not in line with the actual needs of a community, as those kinds of projects are ultimately not sustainable.
In all three cases, our efforts focused on the promotion of sanitation and hygiene awareness, especially the use of toilets, proper disposal of solid and liquid waste, and personal care (such as nail cutting, regular washing of hands, and brushing of teeth). In the absence of such habits and values, disease often results, which proves problematic when your low level of income prevents access to quality medical care.
One of our mottos and guiding values is, “Action through Interaction.” Forming heart-to-heart relationships with our beneficiaries is at the core of our outreach efforts. Not only is it a more humane approach to social service that treats others as equals, but heart-centered relationships are also instrumental to ensuring that the communities have ownership over these development efforts and can sustain themselves after we leave.
Central to this notion is the appointing of “Soldiers of Sanitation” in each village location. These are individuals whom we select to be local leaders of sanitation, hygiene awareness, and values-based education for kids. They are appointed because they demonstrate natural leadership abilities and interest in these values.
Some say that the true success of Vinoba Bhave’s “land gift” movement was not the transferring of land rights to the poor (which failed from time-to-time), but how many local leaders he inspired along the way-- how many he inspired to be the change in their local space, who then inspired others to be the change. At ESI, we have a similar hope for our efforts, as this kind of change in a community can have far-reaching results and implications above, for example, toilet construction or other such singular, hardware-related interventions.
Amiyapur, Thakor Community
Block/District: Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Pre-primary schools: 2 (284 kids enrolled)
Primary schools: 1
Our basic program structure here (and generally) contains the following activities:
- Showing of inspirational movies with community members that support sanitation and hygiene values, and discussion around them.
- Prabhat, bhajan satsanghs with residents.
- Gram safai: Sweeping of public spaces, trash collection, and distribution of dust bins made from empty oil cans.
- Painting of positive sayings and slogans.
- Private meetings with residents for discussions on how to improve conditions in the community.
We like to spend a night or nights in the community, as we did here in Amiyapur, and share meals and living space with the residents because it helps make the experience less formal, more family-like, and creates the right kind of relationships to help the sustainability of the initiative.
In this case, we also ended up visiting the community’s primary school twice in a week for some time promoting personal hygiene habits, such as combing hair, brushing teeth, and washing hands. We try to make this experience fun and enjoyable for the kids and typically share the values through songs and drama skits.
Women tend to hold the key to a village’s improvement because their Compassion Quotient (CQ) is often higher than their male counterparts’. Yet, because of cultural dynamics, they don’t feel it’s appropriate to take charge in their community. Being sensitive to these dynamics and, at the same time, wanting women to take more active roles in community matters, we tend to give special attention and support to them.
At our institute and home base in Sughad, we hosted a group of ladies from Amiyapur to specifically give them this kind of encouragement. They came and experienced the beauty of our facility that is steeped in our values, felt the presence of Nature, and came to understand some of our sustainable, ecological practices (such as reusing of all waste water). It creates the inspiration, which the women then want to carry back into their community, as the contrast can be stark, especially when a community is plagued by sanitation problems and low thinking.
In this village we also created a soak pit for the proper disposal of waste water.
Block/District: Viramgam, Ahmedabad
Communities: Koli Patel, Bharavad, Brahmin, Panchal, Barber, Harijan, Devi Poojak
Population: 2,477 (14.08 men, 1089 women)
Homes: 317 (47 with toilet, 19 with toilet under construction)
Pre-primary schools: 2
Primary schools: 1 (359 kids enrolled)
This community has access to the city busy system via a nearby bus stand, a post office, as well as three temples.
ESI programs in this village closely resembled those in Amiyapur and included two visits with our mobile “Nandini” van.
Block/District: Vijapur, Mehasana, North Gujarat
Communities: Thakor Raval, Devi Poojak and Rabari
Population: 1538 (824 men, 714 women)
Homes: 264 (56 toilets, over half constructed by ESI, 1 public urinal)
Pre-primary school: 1
Primary school: 1 (196 kids enrolled)
Located at a bank of the Sabarmati River, the name of this village comes from a local temple over 120 years in age whose central idol is the goddess Pedi.
Urbanization and the development of Ahmedabad has caused many residents to migrate to the city, decreasing the population, and changing the cultural dynamics.For the reasons cited before, we helped inspire a women’s group to form. They have started a successful Milk Cooperative and a savings program, where each member saves Rs. 50/month. To date, the group, collectively, has Rs. 90,000 in savings, a little under $2,000 USD.
The Soldier of Sanitation we appointed in this village has been particularly effective in inspiring children to take their education more seriously. Before the appointment, only 90 kids were enrolled in primary school, and most would drop out. Now, over 300 are enrolled.
More about Soldiers of Sanitation (SOS):
Again, these are individuals we appoint to continue the programs and activities initiated in a village. It’s never a compulsory appointment, but one that happens organically, given that the person always demonstrates natural leadership ability and a heightened interest in community development and adopting positive values. Our reputation and relative organizational weight, also, gives these people greater permission to do the right thing, whereas before they might have succumbed, understandably, to the social norm of not caring about sanitation values.
The SOS is given a uniform made out of pure khadi to wear while they are doing work in the village, as well as a shoulder bag with painted slogans about sanitation on each side. In addition, he or she is availed a “Sanskar” (values) box, containing a nail cutter, hand sanitizer, buttons, needle and thread, basic first-aid supplies, hair oil, and a comb to help perform small acts of service.
In two villages (Vanthal and Pedhamali) the SOS also started the “Home School” experiment.
Home School Experiment:
Home schooling is an experiment in values-based education. We sponsor the education of ideal teacher candidates, who then receive training at the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram and PTC College in education, sanitation, and hygiene values. They are then paid a humble stipend to share these values forward in their homes to their community’s children after school.
In both Vanthal and Pedhamali, the appointed Soldier of Sanitaiton also started home schooling. These experiments, as of the publishing of this article, have been occuring for four months.
Geethabhen is the teacher from Vanthal. She comes from a poor family and so the small stipend she receives greatly assists the family. Geethabhen’s home school is open on Saturday and Sunday for two hours each day. There is time for teaching, safai, as well as games.
In Pedhamali Village, Jaldipbhai and his wife Snehalben, offer daily home schooling daily for about 20 kids. They are devoted to the cause of improving their community’s living standards and consider their home a “people’s home,” a home for all. They particularly enjoy attending to medical issues that come up in the community and are known to escort people to the doctor and oversee their care.
Based on our extensive experience with this kind of training, especially witnessing the efforts of Manav Sadhna on the Gandhi Ashram through their values-based Angwandi program, we know that this style of education profoundly changes the lives of kids growing up in poverty for the better. Interest in education grows. Self-respect and care increases. Participation in community service goes up. Belief in dreams blossoms. Compassion grows. And habits are adopted that decrease the likelihood of becoming ill.