A project that empowers and encourages people – and is changing many lives

For many people it’s a matter of course, but for Geeta Devi and Sunil Paswan it has been life-changing: their own toilet. Since 2019, METRO and the One Drop Foundation have been working to help the population of India gain access to safe water, sanitary facilities and hygiene services. How is the project improving the quality of people’s lives? The stories of Geeta Devi and Sunil Paswan provide the answer.

For people living in extreme poverty, taking on new sanitation practices can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Sunil Paswan, a farmer in the northern Indian state of Bihar, and his wife and 4 children used to suffer from illnesses constantly. ‘We had to spend about 2,000 rupees on medical treatment every year,’ says Paswan. That hardly left him any money to feed his family. A low-lying water basin in his village, Hirauta, where wastewater from all the households collected was to blame. The sludge it contained was the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. On top of that, neither Paswan nor most other people in the village had their own toilet, which left them with no option but to relieve themselves outdoors.

The situation was similar for 35-year-old Geeta Devi, who lives in the village of Kamrauli with her husband and 5 children. Although she was aware that poor hygiene and ‘taking care of business’ outdoors were health risks, it was hard for her to maintain safe practices in terms of water, sanitary facilities and hygiene. This was due to the lack of information about possible solutions on the one hand, and of resources and money on the other.
© Photo Credit: Kannagi Khanna / One Drop.

METRO Water Initiative

The project is financed by a global campaign that METRO runs each year in 18 countries with 16 suppliers. During a 2-week campaign period organised around World Water Day on 22 March, together with industry partners, METRO plans to raise a total of €5.3 million to help 500,000 people in India.

The turning point: an initiative with, by and for communities

The One Drop Foundation believes in the combined power of providing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services, promoting healthy behaviours, and encouraging capital to support income-generation activities and market-based solutions. These make up One Drop’s ABC for Sustainability model™ implemented with, by and for communities. It’s among the projects that METRO supports in cooperation with the One Drop Foundation in the state of Bihar (in the three districts Sheohar, Gaya and Madhubani). The projects’ mission is to call attention to safe water, sanitation and hygiene behaviours and enable people to practise them. Geeta Devi and Sunil Paswan were among the participants.

During an information event run by the project team, Sunil Paswan learned about hygiene, wastewater and sanitation concepts and how they are related to his health. The knowledge he gained there spurred him on to build his own toilet. ‘My family members, hopefully, will now lead a life of dignity, free from disease, as now I own a toilet at home,’ says Paswan proudly. The local project team supported and guided him throughout the process. He and his neighbours also set up a sewer system that connects his house and his neighbours’, and they filled the sludgy water basin in with dirt. The result: far fewer mosquitoes.

Geeta Devi also got help building a toilet. She learned what building materials were needed and that she could buy them at low cost at a rural sanitary supply store. That enabled her to build her own toilet, setting an example for other villagers.

Not a unique case in India

The conditions Geeta Devi and Sunil Paswan used to live under are still commonplace, affecting some 600 million people in India. Nearly 45% of the population are impacted by extreme water shortages. Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services is lacking particularly in rural areas such as the northern Indian state of Bihar.

World Water Day

World Water Day has been celebrated on 22 March every year since 1993. The day originated with the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. It aims to call attention to the relevance of clean water and shine a light on the problem that some 2.2 billion people around the world have no access to this vital resource. In 2021, the focus is on ‘Valuing Water’ and the question ‘What does water mean to you?

METRO and the One Drop Foundation have been committed to improving living conditions there since 2019. ‘We support our regional cooperation partners’ efforts to increase access to water and sanitation. We also offer financial support and help people to learn and maintain healthy hygiene habits – including regular hand washing, for example,’ says Andrea Euenheim, CHRO and Labour Director of METRO. To do that, the cooperation partners use an innovative approach from One Drop: Social Art for Behaviour Change™ (SABC). It creates spaces where communities work alongside local artists on an emotional level using theatre, street shows, film screenings, pictures and storytelling to inspire the adoption of healthy behaviours and sustain them.

Through their collaboration, METRO and One Drop have already been able to help some 156,714 people in India. The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic recently lent the initiative a new sense of urgency. Quick assistance was called for: thanks to the flexible use of alternatives like digital educational formats, the project partners succeeded in making significant progress even in 2020. Examples of this include 165 newly installed communal water access points, 11 newly equipped WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) stations at schools, 5 publicly installed hand-washing stations at markets and 500 hygiene kits distributed to social workers in the Sheohar, Gaya and Madhubani districts.

© Photo Credit: Geeta Devi / One Drop.

Campaigning for change

Geeta Devi and Sunil Paswan now engage very actively in their villages and other communities, teaching others how to implement safe hygiene and sanitation behaviours. While they may not always be met with acceptance by other villagers from the start, they are highly motivated to share their new knowledge. That’s because there is no doubt in their minds that the new sanitary facilities and their understanding of proper hygiene have improved their lives substantially and given them a sense of dignity.

About the One Drop Foundation

The One Drop™ Foundation is an international foundation created by Cirque du Soleil and Lune Rouge founder Guy Laliberté with the vision of a better world, where all have access to living conditions that allow empowerment and development. Its mission is to ensure sustainable access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for some of the most vulnerable communities through innovative partnerships, creativity and the power of art. Together with its partners, the One Drop Foundation deploys its unique Social Art for Behaviour Change™ approach designed to promote the adoption of healthy water, sanitation and hygiene related behaviours and empower communities. For this to be possible, the One Drop Foundation creates novel fundraising initiatives supported by a visionary community of partners and donors. The One Drop Foundation is celebrating 13 years of turning water into action, with projects that will soon have improved the living conditions of over 2.1 million people around the world. More about One Drop: www.onedrop.org
Header picture: © Kannagi Khanna / One Drop.

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