India is a nation of villages and around 70% of its people still live in rural areas. These are generally low paid agricultural workers who are poorly educated, and have very few opportunities in life. Few households have safe and hygeinic sanitation, as many families have to travel far away from their houses in order to open defecate. Many families we work with have very little understanding about the health and hygiene implications of not having a toilet, so motivation, training and on-going encouragement is a major part of our work. If we have installed a toilet block in a school within the village precincts, the children of that school will already be telling their parents and relatives about the benefits of using a toilet. Our work, therefore, is to make sure that we work closely with both families and the communities that they belong to, to spread awareness about sanitation and to provide safe and hygeinic facilities across communities.
By the end of 2017, we will have installed over 2,500 family toilets that we call ecosans, which benefit more than 13,000 people. These are primarily in rural villages, although we have installed a small number in the peri-urban areas of Puducherry. Villages and some peri-urban areas are home to very different communities and they are less likely to use a community toilet in the way that a slum community would.
Similar in functionality to our GroSan inner-city model (ICS), and utilising urine diverting dry toilet (UDDT) methodology, the benefits of our family ecosans are the same:
Reduced risk of diarrhoea
Better health means more time in school so better future for the children
Less sickness means less time off work so greater income into the household
Reduced expenditure on medicines and healthcare
Women and girls are less likely to be attacked
Removes the stigma of open defecation, which is undignified and shaming
Provides employment opportunities for local people
Environmentally sustainable, turning waste into compost
Uses minimal water and is designed to last for decades
The primary difference between our community inner-city model and the family ecosan unit is that the inner-city model is a ‘mobile’ unit, designed for the narrow streets of a slum and the robust nature of the community. The ecosan toilet, however, is fixed in place. Each unit is restricted to the 4-8 members of a family. The other major difference is that an ecosan contains a concrete-lined, double chamber, within which composting happens; one chamber is in use while the other is composting, meaning that every toilet is always operational.
We also engage with the village ‘influencers’, including the local ‘mayor’, councillors, and women’s self help groups (SHGs). We then draw a map of the village on the ground in chalk, identifying landmarks, and asking about sites where open defecation is practiced. From this simple map we explain how disease can travel. One of the benefits of this is that, after we have left, people pass by the area and ask why the drawing is there.
A key priority of these early days is to identify those families that, as a group, want a toilet, and it is with them that we install our first units, perhaps three or four to begin with. It doesn’t take long for the majority of women and girls to be engaged in wanting a family toilet, and within a short period of time we generally find that at least two members of a family use their toilet all of the time.
This engagement may be slightly more difficult to achieve with the males in the family, as men are not under the same pressures as women are. As men are unlikely to be attacked in the same way as women are, it takes longer to encourage men to use their family toilets. To help move this process along, we set up Village Development Committees (VDCs), which is made up of a cross-section of the village population. These committees visit each household to find out who isn’t using the toilet, and why.
Interestingly, in most cases, far more boys use toilets than their fathers. After each rainy season, however, during which time most men use their family toilet, fewer return to the field to openly defecate. This trend shows that, although it may take a while, everybody will eventually be enticed by the benefits of using a toilet! Our internal figures suggest that we have approximately 85% toilet usage in the first two years, and over 92% usage after four years. We are very pleased with these figures and, of course, we also have the added benefit of being able to collect compost that we can sell.