Ambuja Cement Foundation: Making sanitation a way of life for Rural India

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India CSR News Network

MUMBAI: Sanitation is the priority for Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) in its endeavour towards building a healthy community. ACF understands that sanitation can have rippling effect on one’s life and therefore its impact should not be seen in isolation. Poor sanitation heightens the possibility of health disorders and diseases that can severely hamper the productivity of people and can therefore lead to social and economic misery. Lack of toilets is also a big concern for women’s safety.

Limited awareness on improved sanitation practices, poor economic conditions, lack of decision making power for women, are some of the factors fuelling the poor sanitation in rural communities.

ACF, currently working in 11 states and 22 locations, has adopted a holistic approach to make sanitation an integral part of the rural communities. With people’s participation at all stages of the project, the focus is on creating a demand for healthy lifestyle rather than building mere infrastructural facilities. Through the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), ACF ensures an active involvement of the community in achieving better sanitation practices. ACF’s sanitation programme is being implemented at three different levels:

Efforts to create open defecation free villages

While lack of household toilets is a problem, the bigger challenge is to make people realize it being an uncompromising necessity. Open defecation (OD) is perceived to be an acceptable and harmless practice. Unlike SEDI or micro irrigation, sanitation is not perceived as an investment which would create revenue. In low income households, where livelihood is a crucial concern, a non-returning investment like toilet is not a priority. Therefore, ACF has been consistently driving the household sanitation initiative by mobilizing community with the focus of bringing behavioural change and making OD as totally unacceptable.

The ACF team has been driving the household sanitation through awareness drives, toilet construction and strengthening the Village Health and Sanitation Committees (VHSC).

ACF has specifically identified women and children as the frontrunners of the sanitation drive who are actively steering behavioural change and generating demands. Women’s Federations in Chandrapur (Maharashtra) and Kodinar (Gujarat) have played instrumental role in encouraging people to construct toilets in their households. The two Federations, with 488 SHGs and over 6124 members are driving communities to adopt hygienic practices. With the help of financial agencies, the Federations have been supported with the revolving fund of approximately Rs 4.5 million. Loans applied for toilet construction are given prime importance and disbursed on priority. This initiative had proved that though a non-returning investment, people do account for a sanitation loan responsibly.

In Darlaghat (Himachal Pradesh), ACF has elicited the support of young children from the community by making them responsible to ensure an open defecation free village. Known as “Swachata Doot” (Messengers of Cleanliness), these children spread the message by demonstrating hygiene and cleanliness in their allocated area.

One of the major challenges in fighting open defecation in rural areas is the deep rooted belief that toilet constructions is a costly affair. To overcome this challenge, ACF has built sanitation parks in Rabriyawas (Rajasthan), Kodinar (Gujarat) and Chandrapur (Maharashtra) with low cost and durable prototypes for household toilets. Sanitation parks demonstrate low cost toilet models made by fly ash bricks and concrete blocks.

Apart from construction and use of toilets, ACF is also mobilizing communities on solid and liquid waste management by promoting use of soak pits, biogas, community dustbins and systematic drainage system. Additionally, the Foundation is also planning to initiate household solid waste collection in collaboration of PRI in Ropar.

In 2014, ACF conducted a baseline survey in its 232 core villages in 15 locations that showed only 57% households had toilet facility, several of which was left unused. Today, more than 70% households in villages neighbouring Ambuja Cement have toilets and 64 villages have achieved total sanitation with 100% toilet coverage. This is a result of adopting a holistic approach by creating a sense of ownership amongst community members thus bringing about behavioural change. Through strategic adoption of bottom-up approach ensuring active participation from the community, ACF today has been able to make sanitation a vital part of rural lifestyle. There is a demand created for clean and hygienic surroundings and supportive infrastructure is therefore made best use of. Further, women and children playing crucial roles in the project, sanitation is more of community driven initiative. For ACF’s community, toilet is not an expense but an investment that pays off in terms of good health, reduced medical expenditure, women’s safety and dignity.

Impact:

Number of households covered under toilet construction 10263
Number of toilets constructed 25951
Number of villages covered under sanitation awareness campaign 162
Number of Village Health & Sanitation Committees activated and strengthened 163
Number of villages having achieved total sanitation 64

School Sanitation:

Lack of sanitation in schools is one of the major causes of school dropouts, especially girls. The school-wise survey conducted in 231 core villages identified the need to build/repair toilets in 267 schools. ACF promotes school sanitation by forming vigilance committees of school children, creating awareness on improved sanitation practices and regular follow-ups. Apart from toilet construction and repair, there is strong emphasis on its maintenance. School children themselves play an active role in maintaining the school toilets. In Chandrapur, children from government schools have set an innovative model. Here children, along with teachers and parents have set up vegetable and flower gardens in schools. They sell the produce in local market and part of the returns are used for maintaining toilets in schools.

Impact:

Total number of schools covered 176
Number of schools where new toilet blocks are constructed 88
Number of schools where toilet blocks are repaired 75
Number of schools with water facility created for sanitation 13

With optimum usage of limited resources, ACF is striving to make the maximum impact in times to come.

Case Study

How women and children are driving sanitation in Chandrapur?

When Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) began its sanitation project in the Chandrapur location, the local women were exhausted dealing with the day-to-day problems due to open defecation practices in their villages. In a survey conducted in 2011 in 14839 households of 149 villages showed that only 34% of the constructed toilets were in use, rest being dysfunctional. Women and girls feared their safety and often avoided defecating during the day time which had repercussions on their health. Also, there had been incidents of snake and insect bites that posed a huge danger for the entire community. Dysentery and water-borne diseases were also on the rise.  Therefore, ACF took up community sanitation project on urgent priority. The challenge, however, was not only lack of toilet structures, but also people’s lack of willingness to use it. Villagers had several misconceptions such as a toilet inside the house may bring bad luck to the family, or that toilet construction will be very expensive and hence unaffordable.

Most people, in sheer ignorance, also believed that a toilet soak pit, once full, will overflow and will muddle up their surroundings.

ACF started its work by creating awareness and educating community members to adopt sanitation practices. However, the progress was slow. People were not prepared to take up the responsibility and expected that ACF would build and repair their toilets. There was an urgent need to encourage community to take project ownership. To overcome this problem, ACF introduced the Community Led Total Sanitation program (CLTS) to educate community on the multiple and long-term social and financial effects arising due to lack of sanitation practices.

Initially, the Foundation started working with the Village Development Committees and later focused on building the capacity of women, particularly from the self-help groups and Women’s Federation.  These women were financially independent, were confident and were seen as frontrunners of social change.

Since ACF had already built a strong relation with the women in the community, orienting them was not too difficult. The mandate under the Swacch Bharat Mission that made it compulsory for every SHG member to build a household toilet also helped encouraging women to promptly act on the issue.  Also, because women were suffering the most due to lack of toilets, they took up the project as a personal mission.

Women took this initiative to another level. They actively conducted several meetings with other women in the community, participated in awareness programs, rallies, etc. organized by ACF, and also joined ACF Sakhis (village level trained health workers) in persuading people to build toilets and use them.  ACF organized exposure visits to other villages where people were using toilets and experienced its benefits. This played a major role in busting their misbeliefs and doubts about a household toilet. ACF also sensitized school children and adolescents on the issue through various campaigns and events, thus bringing added support from school children and community youth. Women and children formed vigilance committees at village level. The committee members did early morning rounds in village premises and counselled people who went out for defecation. This created fear and brought in embarrassment to them, and they eventually got the toilets built.

Ekta Mahila Bachat Sangh (Chandrapur Women’s Federation), made it compulsory for its SHG members to construct toilets if they wanted to avail loans for any other requirement. Toilet construction was made the first need for loan disbursal, a strategy that worked very well in creating urgency for the issue. The Federation also received a revolving fund of Rs 10 lakh from Gruh Finance Limited for toilet construction. Women could easily access loan at a nominal interest rate. Till date 277 applicants have availed loan for toilet construction. The loan repayment process has also begun.

With 3 years of incessant focus on CLTS, out of 1869 households with identified gaps, 767 have completed toilet construction. Till date, 10 villages in the location are open defecation free.

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