On August 17th, Evan and Maz of Asepsis met with ASHA (the Association for Sanitation and Health Activities) at a coffee shop in Delhi. We knew that ASHA had a phenomenal reputation in the international WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) community for their commitment to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals through a comprehensive and wide-ranging focus; stressing follow-up research, sharing information on lessons learned through conferences and summits, and pulling in a vast array of personnel with eclectic backgrounds. What we did not know is how quickly we would take a liking to them.
The goal of our meeting was similar to the goal of our trip in general, to learn about the sanitation situation and what was being done about it. In talking with ASHA a clear picture emerged. They were one of several organizations that were devoting nearly all of their resources to combatting the sanitation crisis, and doing so in an informed, innovative manner. We discussed their strategies for identifying communities in need of help, working with local leaders and government officials, and then enlisting the help of these same communities and individuals for the implementation of their solutions.
These were the very methods and principals with which Asepsis sought to work. So there we were, inspired and enraptured at the prospect of such a similar model making an impressive impact, when they invited to see their work in action.
Given an offer we couldn’t refuse, we flew out with the ASHA team – specifically Tuna Rout (Secretary) and Sandeep Bara (President) – to Bhubaneswar, where they are currently undergoing the construction of some 4,000 toilets. Bhubaneswar is located in Odisha, one of the most poverty- stricken areas in. Approximately 70 percent of the population does not have access to sanitation and the same amount live on less than $2.50 per day.
After arriving at the Bhubaneswar airport (BBI), we met with the project coordinator for the State of Odisha who drove us to their site two hours outside of the city. Upon arrival to the community, they took us to see some of their installed toilets that were completed in the latest round of construction. These toilets were made completely of concrete with the exception of the porcelain toilet seat, and were of a far greater quality than any toilet facilities in the area. The septic tanks were above ground: a key feature that will ensure that they do not overflow during rainy season.
These toilets, built by members of the community who were also trained and informed on the importance of sanitation, are the same ones that Asepsis will be working to construct with ASHA in our #ComingClean Campaign. More information here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/asepsis-comingclean-campaign/x/12776017#/story
In every community, there is an agent for change, an individual that can serve as a catalyst for the betterment of the whole. We recognized ASHA’s adept ability to identify such individuals after we were taken to meet the head of the local panchayat (local government), who has spent the last decade engaging in numerous development projects, ranging from telecommunications and electrical infrastructure to health clinics. Recently, he has placed a big emphasis on sanitation, streamlining the process of toilet construction with ASHA and allowing them to move forward with their work at steady pace.
As a young organization trying to do what we can for what we see as one of the largest social injustices and public health disasters in the world, it was inspiring to see an organization like ASHA. Not only because of the work they were doing and the success they have had, but also because of the underlying motivations for doing so. They are first and foremost devoted to the people that they work for; a fact that is particularly evident when you see that most of their staff is from the areas in which they work. But, what’s more, they are an incredibly open and passionate organization.
Sitting in the back of the van taking us from the Bhubaneswar airport to the field, talking with Sandeep Bara and Tuna Rout about their work, the caste system, and the prospects for development in the complex environment that is India, we couldn’t help but feel we had found what Asepsis was looking for all along – an ally that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.