Daily wager Rajeshwari Devi and Beena Devi, a worker in agricultural fields, struggled to make ends meet but thanks to a sanitation initiative, they have now become not only small-time entrepreneurs but are also ensuring that the villagers embrace hygiene. They are a part of a group of 25 women from Lal Dhang in Mithi Beri gram panchayat and surrounding villages in Haridwar district of Uttarakhand and belong to extremely poor families.They have joined the Women for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All) initiative which is to enable women from villages and slums to become entrepreneurs. Together, they are assembling to build toilets, sell toilets and wage their own local revolution against pollution, hardship and disease by helping to ensure their neighbours embrace, and have access to toilets and clean water.
“We have faced problems of not having a toilet at home. So when they approached us for the project, we immediately said yes. We belong to a conservative society, so people opposed our decision to step out of the house for this,” says Beena. She says she is happy that the women have learnt something which will enable them to have a better future for the kids. Rajeshwari also says that the hurdles did not demoralise them and now they are looking forward to build toilets in nearby villages after receiving training at the World Toilet College at Parmarth Niketan here. They all attended a training programme in January and build the first toilets this month in Veerpur. “Now we can build twin pit pour flush toilets on our own. We have just built toilets in Veerpur village in Rishikesh which has been commissioned as Ganga gram now,” says Rajeshwari.
Two villages on the bank of river Ganga — Veerpur Khurd in Dehradun and Mala in Pauri Garhwal — were adopted by the Union Drinking Water and Sanitation Ministry for making them model Ganga villages, in collaboration with Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) this month. The next step for the women is to learn about bio digester toilets. They will also have their own brochures soon for getting employment in other villages or states. “They can work only during the non-agriculture season and some villages are in remote areas where it is difficult to reach during monsoon. These are some hurdles but the women are determined to overcome these and earn self employment,” says Samuel Herbert, the field officer associated with the project. “These women are a role model for others with this sanitation revolution. They will now learn to build bio digester toilets which is a simple, low-cost technology for treating human waste and can aid in putting an end to open defecation and manual scavenging in the country,” says Chidanand Saraswati, co-founder and co-chairman of GIWA.