Launching the Toilets are Beautiful Campaign
The Great WASH Yatra (‘WA’- Water, ‘S’-Sanitation and ‘H’-Hygiene), also called the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, was a journey undertaken by around 500 people,travelling 3000 kms. across five states and six stops, carrying the message to end open defecation, wash hands with soap and practice hygiene, and spread awareness on menstrual hygiene management among women. This message was taken to Wardha (Maharashtra), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Kota (Rajasthan), Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh), Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh) and Bettiah (Bihar). It deserves accolades to have served as the first of its kind in a country where the government decides what people want, and goes about implementing it without taking into consideration what people really want and need. Nirmal Bharat Yatra served to be a great source of creating awareness among people in rural areas mostly, but it was a great learning for us as well. The articles, films, photographs, content on websites and blogs, and subsequently the several recommendations to the local government as we went along the Yatra have served to carry the voice of the people and these have come from our learnings while interacting with the community. The Yatra will go a long way in the future to act as an agent of change, if this model of a two-way flow of information is retained, nurtured and implemented.
While the WASH Yatra was the brainchild of Quicksand and Wash United, it appeared to have been ‘hijacked’ by Union Minister for Rural Development, Shri Jairam Ramesh. Within no time the Great WASH Yatra was being called the Nirmal Bharat Yatra and was being mistaken as an extension of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA; a government program originally named the Total Sanitation Campaign). The Public Relations and Communication Head of Nirmal Bharat Yatra, Quicksand official, Max Bearak says, “We have all respects for the Nirmal Bharat Abhyan which is a great government program on sanitation and we thought of associating with it, we also wished to be closely working with the government on our mandate to create awareness on water, sanitation and hygiene but it’s not acceptable that our program is taken to be synonymous as the Nirmal Bharat Abhyan or as a government initiative. It is our program.” On a serious note, he added, “The entire fund and planning is that of Quicksand and Wash United, the major partners, and the support from the government has been limited to permissions and logistics!” It is to be noted that all the news items have only talked about Jairam Ramesh, his ministry’s commitment to end open defecation and the Nirmal Bharat Yatra! Nowhere has it been reported as an independent initiative. This program hijacking has only fueled opposition parties in each state we have gone to, who politicized our program and inhibited outreach to all sections of people. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra vision and dream to reach to the mass through it’s important message on water, sanitation and hygiene has suffered a blow due to its alliance with Jairam Ramesh’s Ministry, especially when there has been a cabinet reshuffle at the Centre and the Minister has been given a different portfolio altogether during the course of the Yatra! Towards the end of the Yatra after completing 50 days, what should have been the grand finale of an outstanding development initiative and the first of its kind in the country, received a lukewarm reception at Bettiah, Bihar.
The partners of Nirmal Bharat Yatra include Quicksand, Wash United, Arghyam, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council of India (WSSCC), Water Aid and so on*. The workforce of nearly 500 people is divided into different teams which include the Wash United Team; Menstrual Hygiene Management and the India Water Portal team; the Vanguard; EAWAG team; Choices Entertainment, the event management team from Delhi which has 11 vendors including Lalit Arts and Studio, Rama Tent House, Model Stage, Flower Caterers, Sulabh Toilets, House Keeping, TRIG Security; Promotions team; Fellows who were film makers, photo journalists, journalists, writers and bloggers from across the world, a team of 48 volunteers, and laborers.
At each stop the Nirmal Bharat Yatra sets up camp in a matter of two-three days time, during which the Pre-Promotions Team, a convoy of two auto rickshaws do the ground work of mobilizing the community around the place by reaching out to different villages in a radius of 10-15 kms .The auto rickshaws decorated with colorful balloons carry the message of the Yatra into the remote villages along with the invitation to the 2-day carnival. The loudspeakers play the speech on sanitation and hygiene interchangeable with the Wash song that blares as it travels to every nook and corner of the neighborhood, “Khulle main tatti kabhi na karna, bimari phel gayi warna, tatti kachde main palte hain, kittano ke rishte daar(Do not defecate in the open, otherwise disease will spread and in this faeces grow germs that cause diseases). Tulsi, 25, magician and a part of the Pre-Promos team from the very start of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra tells us how they gather people around wherever they halt in the villages they go to. He performs magic while his three other companions Daman Preet, Imran Khan and Manoj interact with people urging them to end open defecation and begin washing hands with soap. The people are invited to attend the Yatra and bars of soap are gifted to them at the end. In a day, the Pre-Promo team reaches out to 6-7 villages on an average. This team has successfully acted as an advertising and information dissemination mechanism for the Yatra in areas where other modes of communication and media will not function.
“Being a part of the pre-promos team from day one since the time Nirmal Bharat Yatra began, I have seen the living situations of the several villages I have personally frequented on duty. I wish instead of spending so much of funds on events like this, we could utilize the same to make a toilet complex in these villages,” suggests Tulsi with a sincere smile.
It is to be taken into consideration that even before the Yatra arrives at a place, the Vanguard team has already done extensive ground work to assemble all the information regarding which schools to target our programs on, taking permits, meeting the local government officials and notifying them of our program and event and so on. Ananya Ghosal from Feedback Foundation has taken a lead role as part of this team and has done an incredible job. They even go a step further and try and arrange a dialogue between the Nirmal Bharat Yatra and the local government to facilitate sharing of recommendations collected from our experience of interacting with the community and working out an action plan specific for the region.
Subsequently, the Wash United (Wash in Schools) and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) teams set out to the schools to conduct their awareness program. These programmes run over 2-4 days. In 3-4 vehicles we are a team of nearly 10 individuals who carry out the Wash Program simultaneously with the MHM program in these schools. The Wash Program involves an awareness workshop for the entire school including teachers, where an innovative game that centres around sanitation and involves excited school children is played. There is also a demonstration of a ‘tippy –tap’, which is shows how to make your own provision to wash hands after using the toilet or before eating food using bamboos, thread, a bar of soap and a jerry-can. Equipped with these simple and affordable raw materials, a school in rural India can install a hand washing device similar to a tap, without any delay. The Menstrual Hygiene Management team begins with an awareness workshop on menstruation, the myths and the facts for adolescent girls, those who have reached puberty and those who haven’t,. This is followed by a survey where the attempt is to gauge the level of information adolescent girls in rural India have with respect to menstruation and hygiene, and the taboos and restrictions they live with. At the end of the day, the MHM team facilitates a discussion with the teachers, mostly in the office of the headmaster, on what their role is in creating awareness among the girls in school with respect to menstruation and good hygiene practices, and to have in place a system to support them during their menstrual One of the main reasons most girls drop out of school is because there are no toilets or because the toilets are very dirty. When they have their periods they have no choice but to skip school because of the lack of facilities.
The MHM stall and Team has been recognised as the stall with the highest number of women recommending it, visiting it and voting it as the best out of all the other stalls at the carnival (Source- EAWAG).
The EAWAG team is a six member strong team that has worked diligently all throughout the Yatra to understand the Nirmal Bharat Yatra initiative ‘statistically’. They conducti mass surveys, interviews at homes and at the eventvenue . They include tools of observation and questionnaires scientifically designed to gauge the behavior patterns of people and to understand what behaviors are associated with open defecation and what would have to change in them to bring about a change in the statistics of open defecation. I am hugely impressed on a personal and professional front with the EAWAG team who has worked very hard on the field collecting information and then attempting to understand the impact of Nirmal Bharat Yatra in terms of numbers! This team is the backbone of for any replication, modification or impact analysis for the Yatra going forward. Kunal from EAWAG says, “A certain amount of detachment from others during the entire duration of the Yatra actually helps us to go about our research and hold an objective view about the entire event and initiative.”
Photo journalists, journalists, bloggers, film makers and TV journalists form the creative team, which comes from different parts of the globe. Each one of us has been on our feet to cover various facets of the Yatra and the communities we have been able to reach out to. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TheGreatWashYatra) has been able to successfully champion the cause in the social-media arena while Twitter and several other blogs are abuzz with our work both in print as well as electronic media. The local media has also covered the Yatra sufficiently as we moved from one place to another and most of the stories on us have been a front page article.
After the outreach programs in schools, a two-day carnival is held in a big ground marked with several beautifully decorated stalls, a stage where song, drama and dance is performed by children from nearby schools, several games that engage thousands of people thronging to participate in the carnival, food stalls and so on. The entire concept of the carnival is to drive home the sole message of water, sanitation and hygiene. The EAWAG team is busy interviewing people who come to the carnival. The MHM stall engages women in discussion and demonstrates how to make their own sanitary pads with cotton fabric. The Water AID stall demonstrates the different models of toilets favorable to different topographical conditions. The Carnival is a merry event and includes a formal event where the local government representative or other delegates from the Centre come and address the large crowd on issues of sanitation. Union Minister Jairam Ramesh graced the occasion in Wardha, Indore and Gwalior.
Nirmal Bharat Yatra is expected to cross 1,50,000 ‘yatris’ or people who came to the two-day carnival which travelled from Wardha in Maharashtra on Oct 3rd 2012, to Bettiah in Bihar on the 17th Nov 2012. The biggest turnout was at Kota in Sangod, with an attendance of 33,000 in two days. And to tell you, this is just the number of people we registered at our entrance to the carnival and doesn’t include the thousands of people the Vanguard team, EAWAG team, Pre-Promotions team, Wash Team and MHM team reached out to!
Bus ride across 3000 kms in the country
We have travelled on bus and there have been long hauls, sometimes as long as 22 hours when we travelled from Gwalior to Gorakhpur, the roads are bad and the sanitation facilities en route could be traumatic to an urban citizen like me. The tents that we live in get very hot in the day and unbearably cold in the night. In our last stop at Bettiah, in Bihar the tents get wet post 1 am and the quilts get drenched by the time we get up in the morning from moist and frost. Through changing weathers (we began the yatra on Oct 1 which was still summer and now its past mid November and freezing), shifting camps, coughs, colds and stomach infections, through dirty toilets on the road and mobile toilets once we set camp, and differences of opinion, we have stuck through it till the end, thriving on the one spirit of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra - to end open defecation, ensure people wash hands with soaps and practice hygiene in the way they live.
And look what we have created!!
By Urmila Chanam, Fellow, India Water Portal, Arghyam
For full India Water Portal coverage of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, click here.