So far, I think CFHI has done a really good job picking out the sites where our rotations take place. Week one was Sulabh, a social service organization committed to promoting public health by building hygienic toilets and helping to eradicate the class called untouchables. We also visited another organization called SPYM at various locations.
Our first rotation site was at Sulabh International. Rather than subject you to my mediocre writing, I took the liberty of copying the organization’s description from CFHI:
“Sulabh International Social Service Organization: Honoured by United Nations in July 2008 to liberate the scavengers under the project ‘Nai Disha’ in Alwar, Rajasthan
The Sulabh International Social Service Organization founded in 1970, is the largest nationally and internationally recognized pan-India social service outfit with 60,000 volunteers on the rolls who work to promote human rights, environmental sanitation,
health and hygiene, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education, training and awareness campaign. It has developed a scavenging-free two-pit pourflush toilet (Sulabh Shauchalaya); safe and hygienic on-site human waste disposal technology; a new concept of maintenance and construction of pay & use public toilets, popularly known as Sulabh Complexes with bath, laundry and urinal facilities; generation of biogas and biofertiliser produced from excreta-based plants; and low maintenance waste water treatment plants of medium capacity for institutions and industries. It has set up an English-medium public school in New Delhi and also a network of centres all over the country to train boys and girls from poor families, especially scavengers, so that they can compete in open job market. Sulabh has thus set up a modern, humane social order based on goodwill and mutual cooperation. The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements has recognised Sulabh’s cost-effective and appropriate sanitation system as a global ‘Urban Best Practice’. Sulabh has also become a member of the 142 elite global groups of NGO’s having “General Consultative Status” at the UN.”
I found the experience at Sulabh very moving, especially our visit to the center at Alwar. These women used to be social pariahs, living on the fringe of society because of the duties their social caste forced them into. But now, with the help of Sulabh, these women were taught new skills, like craft making, cooking or trained as beauticians. Now the same people who wouldn’t even let their shadows touch them invite them into their homes to do their nails and give them facials.
Overall, I appreciated the holistic approach Sulabh takes towards improving living standards. It’s not enough just to liberate the scavengers because someone else would take their place. But by replacing dry toilets with flush toilets and promoting the use of toilet complexes in slums, Sulabh is slowly eliminating the need for scavenging.
The next few sites we visited were funded by an NGO called Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM). Brief descriptions taken from CFHI are below:
SAHYOG Juvenile Deaddiction Center-
A rehabilitation center for males under the age of 18 who are in trouble with the law due to substance abuse problems. This organization is sponsored by an NGO called “Promotion of Youth and Masses”, the Indian Judiciary (Juvenile Justice Boards) and the Ministry of Women and Child Development (Govt. of India).
ICTI Center in Truck Yard-
A center dedicated towards providing education of safe sex practices for truckers, identified as part of the high risk population for HIV/AIDS and other STI’s. The center also provides testing and medication at 50% of the cost.
Spym Homeless Citizens Resource Center-
At APNA GHAR (meaning Own House) homeless are provided with clean and safe shelter, food water and lockers. This NGO provides a safe place with basic needs for the homeless.
At all of these sites I was struck by how dedicated the staff were towards their work. SAHYOG helps to rehabilitate youth in the process of de-addiction by training them in vocational skills and helping them find employment after their time at the center is finished. The site coordinator there was quite passionate about his work, and believes that the only way to really help these children is to think of them as children, not addicts or criminals. Many of these kids have committed crimes ranging from petty theft to murder, while under the influence of all kinds of substances, but at the end of the day, they really are just children forced into a difficult life because of poor living standards and problems at home.
The outreach personnel at the truckyard were equally as dedicated, and I was surprised by how open they were to talking about STI’s, HIV and sex, which is generally a taboo topic in Indian culture. By being comfortable talking about these topics, the staff maintain a safe place for truckers to feel comfortable getting tested and ask questions.
Overall, compassion and patience were a huge part of the success I saw in these centers. In 2014, the government will visit these sites including others to decide whether to continue funding. I hope they’ll be able to see the same merit I saw in these organizations.