Thursday 26 December 2013

Building Model Villages – Amiyapur, Pedhamali and Vanthal

Part of ESI's work we are to help seed values, practice and habits of sanitation; and let the action spring forth as a result of the values. As part of this, he has set up an experimental program in three of Gujarat’s villages – Amiyapur, Pedhamali and Vanthal. His goal is to develop these villages into ‘model villages’ through extensive interaction at multiple levels, and change the hearts and minds of the people first, in order to make the practice self-sustaining. In turn, these villages would be examples for other villages, and word about sustainable sanitation can spread by word-of-mouth from village to village. He believes that the word about this will spread organically to multiple locations, and the neighboring villages will gain their own inspiration by watching the ‘model’ villages.

Compared to typical NGO programs that involve ‘government programs with people’s participation’, the idea is to change the hearts and minds of people by creating ‘people’s programs with government participation’ – that is, the initiative would be owned and operated by the people, with financing from the government. Thus, Suresh bhai’s ‘program’ involves getting to knowing the villagers, and building minds and mutual understanding, and to take responsibility for improving their village; rather than building the facilities for them. By reaching out to their hearts and connecting deeply, and demonstrating goodwill through small acts of kindness and service, Sureshbhai finds it easier to change habits. His demonstrations of sanitary facilities through his Nandini Van usually convince people of the benefits of improved sanitation practices. Once the seed and motivation is sown, it becomes easier for people to begin to take responsibility for improving their families, homes and villages. This has inspired the villagers in Amiyapur, Pedhamali and Vanthal to create their own model villages. The villagers petition the government for financial help while demonstrating their own motivation and independence, creating an ideal system where the drive is from within, thus improving possibilities of sustainability.

Sureshbhai’s first step involves visiting villages and setting up personal connections, and becoming a part of the village. After convincing the villagers about his mission being beneficial, and with the villagers as the primary drivers, as described in Article 1, he obtains agreement from all of them to set up a systematic program for the village’s sanitation and beautification. 

Following that, an initial survey of the basic practice in the village is performed.  Baseline Survey: A KAP survey that obtains information about Knowledge, Attitude and Practice. This is through speaking with individual householders, panchayat leaders, school teachers, anganwadi workers, all at the personal level to understand the current state of sanitation in the village.

Two key types of practice have been established to complement Sureshbhai’s visits and to keep a continuous, ongoing practice of sanitation in each village. The first is the establishment of safai sainiks who are local representatives within the village, and the second the visits of various volunteer groups who perform hands-on service in the villages. 

Safai Sainiks and Outreach 

One of the most important features is the establishment of a local representative of sanition, called a Safai Sainik ("soldier of sanitation"). The Safai Sainik is a representation of the village’s commitment to sanitation. Three Safai Sainiks have been established in each of the villages -- Shaileshbhai in Amiyapur, Snehalben in Pedhamali and Nainaben in Vanthal. Each Safai Sainik is equipped with a sanitation kit containing hand sanitizer, nail cutter, towel, comb, soap and oil. The Safai Sainik visits the village school for 2 hours each day to develop hygienic habits in children, and to reinforce them each day. The daily session consists of an hour of conceptual learning of sanitation followed by an hour of practice, and of reinforcing their daily learning through various activities.The curriculum they follow in teaching follows a 7-step approach to sanitation – involving the importance of sanitation and the personal, home, family, village, state, country and world levels.
The Safai Sainiks having volunteered to serve the village,have established with the villagers a record of working with bhakti (devotion) and friendship. Due to this, their words and actions and reminders for sanitation practice are considered a help and meaningful in the village’s growth. The Safai Sainiks put up slogans in the village about cleanliness, use of water, waste disposal, world peace, etc. to inspire the villagers on a daily basis. The Safai Sainiks follow the IEC method – Information, Education and Communication. They regularly conduct awareness campaigns in the gaonsabha (village council meetings) when all the village comes together to talk about issues affecting them. They are involved in closely monitoring the awareness levels in the village on various issues of education and sanitation, survey the villagers to understand their needs and knowledge levels, and organize follow-up visits by Sureshbhai and other members from ESI (Environmental and Sanitation Institute) in Ahmedabad, as well as organize volunteer visits and help identify action items within the village. The Safai Sainiks follow up with Sureshbhai regularly, and in especial detail before his monthly visits to each of Pedhamali, Amiyapur and Vanthal.

More safai sainiks are being trained from other villages. About 90 such representatives from several villages visited ESI and Sughad recently, for a safai yatra ("tour of sanitation"). They range different sections of society – some with their Masters degrees in Social Work or in Rural Study, and others who are less educated and from the poorer sections of society.They visit ESI, view the different designs of sanitary facilities, the recycling, composting and other processes used at ESI. The tour is also complemented by a visit to the Swaminarayan temple in the vicinity, where the visits offer their work as an act of service. In gratitude for the service that Sureshbhai and others at ESI provide in taking care of them during their tour, their devotion in explaining the processes of sanitation and training them for the safai sainik job;even the poorest of the poor visitor does offer up at least Rs. 10 from their pocket. Now all the trained safaisainiks help clean their individual villages once a week.

One successful output from this outreach program is safai sainik is Gita-ben, affectionately called by her village children as Gitaben Maa-sthar ("equal to mother," and a pun on the Hindi word for ‘teacher’). Each Saturday and Sunday, she imparts value-based education to the kids and untouchables in her village, on topics such as sanitation, nutrition, cleanliness, and education.

Safai sainiks like Gitaben organize dramas and street plays at night in the village, perform the survey work and analysis required before volunteers can take up a specific program for implementation, follow up with comparative analysis after an action item has been implemented, and follow up with Sureshbhai and ESI following their visits.

Volunteer visits in Pedhamali 

Sureshbhai brings in a number of volunteers from various groups to these villages. These may be student groups from across India, groups from abroad, school children as well as youth. The volunteer groups serve multiple purposes – the volunteers are able to view the needs of villages, and serve directly the groups they want to benefit. The villagers, on the other hand, have an opportunity to interact with them.

As part of the National Social Service (NSS) program in India, 60 college students, in the 17-20 age range, were assigned to each of these villages, for a period of 6 days. These students were involved in a number of activities – the primary ones being creating dustbins, cleaning public toilets and making them fit for re-use.

The volunteers identified the need to clean up the villages, and to first have clearly designated and designed spots for disposal of garbage. They decided to first create dustbins/garbage cans. The volunteers collected large oil barrels that were thrown away as trash, and used the same trash to create beautiful trash (garbage) cans. They cleaned up the oil barrels, cut them into the right size, and painted them. Finally, they painted slogans on each dustbin that remind people about sanitation and cleanliness. In the process, the student-volunteers created 300 dustbins for the three villages. They decided to sell the beautifully painted dustbins for a nominal fee of Rs. 5. Having watched the students work with great energy and devotion over the few days, the villagers were enthused and impressed, and many purchased the dustbins they created for their homes and courtyards.

In Pedhamali, the volunteers worked on cleaning up the public toilets which were created by the government but had become trash-dumping sites and no longer usable. The volunteers started by offering a prayer, and dedicating their work of cleaning to the village as a service. The combination of service and spirituality inspired not only the volunteers but also the villagers, and they realized that it was a labour of love to clean and maintain the public toilets.   

Response in Pedhamali After Volunteer Visits 

After the NSS camp was held in these villages, there was a clear increase in demand for the dustbins that the volunteers had created. Much more awareness was created during the 6 days of the volunteers’ stay. After watching volunteers clean toilets and treat it as a purifying practice, and learning of the hygiene benefits, several women wanted toilets in their homes. Because demand was organically created from within, the villagers decided to get the toilets by applying for government financing. They proactively approached the government and applied for funds under the Indian government’s Nirmal abhiyaan, which finances construction of sanitation facilities for families below poverty line. In fact, 25 new toilets have already been built and there is demand for a 100 more from families around the villages. Because the villagers now became self-motivated, the entire process took simply a few weeks.

Volunteer Visit to Vanthal Village: 

Vanthal village has a very strong anganwadi program, with a strong focus on improving its kids’ future. Unanimously, the villagers have seen the benefit of educating their children and approached the DEO (District Education Officer) to construct a new school. The government offered strong support and has approved Rs. 25 lakh for a new school that covers classes 1 to 8, facilitating most of the children in the village to be able to study until high school while staying in the village with their families.

Like in Pedhamali, Sureshbhai brought an NSS team to visit Vanthal and identify opportunities for improvement as well as service. In Vanthal, the biggest issue was to improve water pipelines. The existing pipeline was about 25 years old and was leaking in several places. The NSS group decided to create 5 soap pits as a demonstration. As always, the idea was to create inspiration and momentum for activities that villagers could take up on their own and sustainably implement in their village, independent of external support.

The villagers liked the idea of constructing such pits to control the leakage of the pipes and several expressed interest in watching the process so that they could learn and construct for themselves, and be able to solve their own problems. Because this construction was significantly more expensive than the work at Pedhamali, the volunteers required that the villagers make a monetary contribution. Within a short time, Rs. 7000 was collected from people across the village. Additionally, the volunteers also required that the unemployed in the village participate and learn these skills so they could be usefully employed when such construction was needed. The volunteers brought the required material and demonstrated the construction of soap pits at 5 different spots in the village, that would work as a good measure until the entire pipeline could be replaced.

Response in Vanthal After Volunteer Visits 

After having constructed the soap pits, the villagers had an increased awareness of the extent of problems with the water pipeline in the village. More importantly, they began seeing themselves as the primary movers in solving these issues. The NSS camp motivated a Village Panchayat (Council) meeting, with the elected members as well as the common villagers present, and created a venue for discussion. In the presence of Suresh bhai, they discussed ways of solving the problem, and Suresh bhai presented his thoughts from experience at ESI and multiple other villages. Eventually, the council decided that the best long-term solution would be to replace the entire pipeline in the village, over time. They also came up with a clear execution plan – that they would put up 10% of the funding as collateral and proof of commitment to the State Government, and the remaining 90% of the funding would come from the government. All the manual labour involved would be from the currently unemployed youth in the village, who would be educated and trained in such construction (by ESI) before the project starts. The Panchayat also created a ‘Water Committee’ in the village, consisting of 12-13 people drawn from all sections of the population – men, women, youth, old people, to maintain diversity and capture opinions from all sections of the village society.

Thus far, the villagers have stood by their word – 10% of the project’s budget has been collected from within the village, and submitted to the government, along with a petition to construct the new pipeline. The first check from the government has also arrived, allowing for an enthusiastic beginning to the new pipeline project. (Note: We will follow up with multiple posts on the progress of this project.)

Response in Amiyapur after Volunteer Visit 

In Amiyapur, there was a different focus to self-improvement in the villagers. They decided, after the volunteer visit, to focus on reconstructing the broken compound wall of the village school. Unemployed youth would contribute their time to create a well-built campus for the children. (Note: We will follow up with multiple posts on the progress of this project.)

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