The idea of providing Safe Water and Sanitation to Households was conceived by the minds at Annapurna in the year 2013. It was observed that in the states of Odisha and Chhattisgarh, the clients had complained regarding water quality and poor hygiene. The staff conveyed the same to the management. There were various reported cases of diarrhoea, cholera and other water borne diseases due to use of contaminated water.Various research reports reveal that majority of rural India has poor access to sanitation and many more are in the same plight.
Considering the health of our customers, we believed it was an issue which we could address, and hence began exploring the idea further. With this thought, we started doing our internal research for product development. When we thought of this intervention, there weren’t manyoptions available for constructing a toilet. As we had no expertise in the water and sanitation segment, theidea of partnering with a technical agency was the next logical step.We did some research on choosing the right partner in this area, and came to know about Water.org, which is a renowned international agency that extensively works in the areas of safe water & sanitation across the globe. Finally, we started our partnership with Water.org in the year 2013.
The Government has been contributing significantly in making this country Open Defecation Free in the present scenario, and various schemes are launched to support the cause. But, at the time we thought of launching this product, the Government’s penetration was only about 10%. The gap between the demand from those willing to construct toilet or in need of funds for it, and supply from government or other agencies was huge. This further gave a boost to our resolve for launching of the product.
During that period, we came across some social ills that were still prevalent in our operational areas, especially when cleanliness of a household is concerned, and came to the conclusion of providing safe water and sanitation to households, and thus launching our product, “SWASTH”, in the year 2014.
There were numerous problems faced during its implementation. Of the many problems, one was of providing our staff with adequate training and capacity building, as none of the staff hadprior experience in the field of sanitation, neither in theory nor in practice.
However, this was addressed by organizing practical, on the field, technicaltrainings for our staff. Another challenge that was difficult to address was ofdealing with the low level of awareness among people; i.e., changing the mind-sets of our clientsand making them understand the importanceof toilet use. People were not ready to accept the change and were unaccommodating to the idea of spending INR 15000 for constructing toilets. They were used to the ample of open space available for defecating, howsoever unhealthy it was to them.It is true, old habits die hard!
Whereas, most of the challenges were because of the external difficulties, there were challenges from our own staffs as well. The similar inertia that our customers had, was also reflected by our staff to work on something new. SWASTH was a social cause,and our aim was to send a social message and ensure the good health of our clients by providing them with better services. Our staffs were reluctant at first to work on something new that they had no expertise in.
But unlike them our means weren’t so rigid.We had predicted this argument would come up, and knew that it can be a major hindrance to our program’ssuccess, therefore weplanned accordingly.A team of District Coordinators was made for product awareness, training and support. These Coordinators would provide awareness to our clients across different villages, as well as provide the much needed handholding support to our staff for delivering this product.Adetailed training program was designed for the trainers, under which 8 District Coordinatorswere made responsible for providing on field hand holding support and training to staffs. These staffs, through IEC material, further made our clientsaware of the ills associated with unhygienic living conditions. The process took a toll on our field staffs, but it was worth the effort!
When we wish to make things better for someone, we are faced with many trials. These trials are further magnified when our beneficiaries are in large numbers. Along with geographic expansion, another challenge was of standardizing the cost of construction, as the cost would vary based on the provision of masons in that area.However, it was addressed by providing different mason trainings to construct sustainable toiletries. Through this, we not only ensured the sustainability of the toilet constructed, but also in ensuring livelihoods of those masons who underwent a training by providing them with the much needed skills.
Operational challenges were other pebbles on our way to success, as in many of our operational villages, there was water scarcity that delayed theconstruction of toilets. The list of challenges went on and then came seasonal challenges, (as if we hadn’t had enough) that led to unavailability of masons during the peak seasons when they either migrated to the neighbouring states for labour or were engaged in agriculture labour. Construction during rainy season was always a problem and led to unnecessary delays.
The list of challenges was long, and each and every difficulty was worth taking a note. Apart from the above stated, another trial was to determine the intent of our customers. As it was often found that loans taken for constructing a toilet were utilized for some other purpose by the customers. It was a challenge that we came across post the implementation of our product.It was indeed a seriousissue and therefore, without delays in addressing it, we came up with the solution and made it mandatory for the customers to first get the pits ready for the toilets by themselves, and then avail for the SWASTH Loans. It was further checked by organizing our branch manager’s visit to the customers’ place for the process of Loan Utilization Check.
Our motive was to provide our customers with healthy solutions and better customer relations. Therefore, we kept the loan size for SWASTH quite economical, so that our clients could afford the monthly instalments along with their existing loans. Another feature of loan customization was added to our product specifications. For this, we kept the loan size and its tenure flexible, based on the requirements of our customers.For instance, a Single pit cost them INR 12000 and a Septic Tank was available for INR 25000. Therefore, the loan tenure was dependent on the size of the loan. Higher the loan size, more was the tenure.
Through SWASTH, we also ensured better quality of water at their door steps. As, our clients used to spend a lot of time in gathering water from outside that resulted in less efficiency. Therefore, another product offered was in providing them finance for constructing Hand bore wells in areas with adequate ground water level, and water pipe connection, for areas with government water supply. This brought the water to their doorstep. The next step was to improve the quality of the available drinking water. So eventually, we introduced a loan for purchasing water purifiers. Based on the water quality, we also suggest our clients to choose the right category of purifier, i.e. gravity based, RO, UV.
If we talk about the impact of SWASTH, it has to be noted that apart from the usual better quality of life and other clichés, our clients felt a sense of security and pride. The pride was in feeling uplifted in their social status, as they didn’t have to go for open defecation, and also in being treated as privileged by a company that offered them with special loans based on their requirements. Having toilets at their home proved to be very convenient, and also less dangerous as there were multiple cases reported of snake bites during the time our customers used to go for open defecation. Apart from this, having a water supply at their home was very helpful in saving their time and effort. Clients now had more productive time per day, to dedicate in their daily activities.
The benefits from SWASTH product were many.Each hurdle that we crossed made us reach one step closer to achieving our objective. As it is known, more the trials, more is our joy on being victorious!