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.
METRO Water Initiative
The turning point: an initiative with, by and for communitiesThe 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
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.
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.