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  • Toilet trouble in the slums of Odisha


    July 21st, 2017

    Last week I travelled to Choudwar in the state of Odisha, India to visit a project being funded by H&M Foundation.  We took along with us two influential fashion and beauty vloggers Dress Like a Mum and Ms Rosie Bea to show them the realities of a life without adequate sanitation.

    The women and children that we met in the community are forced to relieve themselves in an open field, exposed to prying eyes.  They risk sexual assault as well as snake bites and contracting malaria from mosquitoes. If this wasn’t bad enough, women who are on their periods have absolutely no privacy.

    But all that is about to change. With funding from the H&M Foundation, we will be building toilets, a faecal sludge treatment plant and rainwater harvesting systems to change the lives of the women and children that we met (and the men too!).

    I spoke to a few people today about my recent trip to India (including a woman who stopped me in the street to say she enjoyed my photos (thank you again) It was such an honour to be invited to work with @practical_action & @hmfoundation – to actually see direct results and to meet the wonderful people who will benefit from the life changing projects they are working on. The things I saw, people I meet and places we visited will stay with me for life, at times I felt like I was inside a TV program – it was unreal, humbling and inspiring. Thanks for all your kind words, support and for following my trip – videos to follow next week x And big thanks to @practical_action for all that you do for the world ❤️ #dresslikeamuminindia #india #practicalactionindia #practicalaction #hm #hmfoundation

    A post shared by Zoë de Pass (@dresslikeamum) on

    It was fantastic to open Zoe and Rosie’s eyes to these issues, to help them understand the problems that people are facing and how we are going to work together to fix them.

    We were given such a warm welcome, particularly when we arrived laden with make-up for the teenagers in the community. We lost count of the number of fingernails that were painted and blue eye shadow that was applied!

    Working with ‘social influencers’ like Zoe and Rosie is a new thing for us but is really helping us to reach new audiences with our work. We’ll be back in November once the toilets are under construction – watch this space!

    Watch Rosie’s video about the visit

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  • Making the invisible Eco-Warriors; the informal Waste Pickers, visible


    April 24th, 2017

    I see few of them every morning; first while going for my walk and then while going to my office. They come to the locality little early before the municipal authorized waste pickers come for the waste collection so as they can segregate the reusable items beforehand, collect those and then can sell it to the kabadiwala. I am talking about the “informal waste pickers” who play a big role in keeping the city and neighborhood clean, but don’t get the recognition they deserve. Bhubaneswar generates around 600 tonnes of solid waste per day and the city is providing habitation to around 1500 numbers of waste pickers and their families.

    Some research report shows 90% of discarded recyclable PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) in India gets recycled, ahead of countries with formalized waste management. Most of these are collected by informal waste collectors who sell it to middlemen who then resell to recycling factories. In most of the cities the same business model is working.

    Go and meet few waste pickers you will clearly observe that lower caste or Dalits and other minorities are mostly performing this task. They belong to the most marginalized sections of the city. Most of them are uneducated and even their children perform the same task. And yes they are associated with dirt. The stray dogs bark at them and even the most of the city dwellers look at them differently.

    The misery is that they clean and appears dirty and we dirt the city and appear clean. Do not you think they do a great job !!! They need recognition for this job which they perform for their livelihood.  As most of them are not educated they are cheated by the middle man and sell their collected materials at a lesser price. As they are not into formal sector they perform the task without any safety gear and put their health at risk. I accept they do this job as per their own wish but from a different angle, they perform the task of the local municipality without being paid for that.

    We at Practical Action initiated a project among the children of the informal waste pickers few years back. And one component of that project was to formalize the informal waste workers and provide them with valid identity card so that they can take the benefit of the government schemes. I am not going to discuss the whole project achievement here, but the field team managed by a local NGO called as CCWD made tremendous efforts with technical support from Practical Action in influencing the municipality to recognize the work of the informal waste works. The project was funded by BVLF for 2 years.

    BMC Mayor Sri Ananta Narayan Jena handing over ID card to waste workers of Bhubaneswar

    When it came to the social security of the Informal waste workers, the state had no provisions for them and one of the major reason was, these waste workers were not identified in the labour category. We continued our advocacy for more than a year with taking up a lot of initiatives. We formed the ‘Abrajana Gotali Mahasangha’ the first of its kind formal union among the waste pickers of the city. A series of training programmes on different safety measures and awareness on getting their basic facilities from the municipality were organised. The union later took this up and went ahead to meet the municipal authorities along with the project staffs. After several meetings and approach, the authority finalized acknowledged the informal waste workers of the city and a process of identification was initiated.

    Deputy commissioner BMC Sri Srimanta Mishra among the waste workers with their ID cards

    The municipality agreed to provide valid identity card to the informal waste pickers and also some additional benefits in terms of safety and social security was assured. Though the project is over but a constant supervision has led to a number of 755 informal waste workers being provided with the identity card. They are now recognized as labours in other category and this makes them eligible to get benefits from various government schemes.

    Yet again, this number is not enough. This is the story of just one city. Odisha has more than 100 urban local bodies where we can find the similar set of people. This is high time, other municipalities and urban local bodies must consider the informal waste workers and provide them with the required social security and safety what they deserve.

    ( Download ‘LIFE DIGNIFIED’ a case study compendium on the said project here. )

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  • Bidding adieu to 2016 : 10 best examples of practical solutions from India


    December 30th, 2016

    With a number of challenges on the field and off the field, the team in India has managed to deliver some good sustainable practical solutions in last couple of years. Moving ahead for an eventful 2017 and with added challenges and milestones, I thought of ending the year with looking back at the sustainable practical solutions we have served so far.

    Development is a process as we all know and in Practical Action the biggest learning so far I have got is how to make this process a sustainable one. Here I have documented 10 different projects and interventions which have been sustainable or aiming at sustainability delivering practical solutions.

    1. ACCESS cook stoves

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    Access Grameen Mahila Udyog, in Koraput which is nurtured by Practical Action has been instrumental in manufacturing and marketing of improved cook stoves. The cook stoves generate less smoke, save fuel and time.

    It has contributed to less carbon emission and has resulted in healthier living environment in rural tribal houses.

    2. SOURA RATH (Solar Power Cart)

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    Practical Action India developed a portable solar-powered cart (Mobile Solar Energy System) that provides energy for 72 hours to power mobile phones, laptops, lights and water pumps. The cart can serve up to a capacity of 5KW and can be used during the post-disaster emergency and is easy to be relocated from one place to another.

    This model is applauded by Government of Odisha and is now being showcased at the Solar Park for public. We strongly feel this can add value to the cyclone shelter houses if used appropriately

    3. SUNOLO SAKHI 

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    Young girls and women in 60 slums of Bhubaneswar have formed Sakhi Clubs and spreading the knowledge on menstrual hygiene among other girls and peers. Our innovative radio Programme ‘Sunolo Sakhi’ has broken the taboo and enabled a conducive environment for discussion on menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls. The first ever radio show on menstrual hygiene Sunolo Sakhi is instrumental in bringing about change in the menstrual hygiene practices and behaviour of these young girls resulting in better health.

    The comprehensive programme Sunolo Sakhi is also providing Audio book for visually challenged and video book for hearing and speech impaired girls in the State.

    4.  COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE 

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    Community led water management has helped this tribal village Sundertaila in Nayagarh district to be self-sufficient in getting clean drinking water. Not only practical solutions but introducing user friendly and sustainable technology options at the last mile and serving them with basic needs is something what Practical Action tries to invest in its program efforts.

    5. SMRE

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    18 years old Sunil Tadingi of Badamanjari is now a successful entrepreneur and continues education in Semiliguda College. Despite all odds he is able to mark this achievement as his village is now electrified with the help of a self-sustained micro hydro power generation unit.

    Badamanjari has set an example in Koraput district by generating around 40KW electricity to provide light to all the households of the village and people are able to watch TV and use fans as well. Rice hauler and turmeric processing units are also running with additional energy generated, as a result creating entrepreneurs like Sunil.

    6. Small wind energy systems (SWES)

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    60 poor families in Kalahandi district of Odisha once deprived of access to electricity are electrified now. The wind and solar hybrid system by Practical Action has solved the basic energy need of the villagers with street lights, home lighting and fans.

    Kamalaguda and Tijmali, these two villages are on the top of the hills where it was a day dream for getting electricity to fight with the night. Now, the villagers are capacitated to manage the systems by themselves without any external support.

    7. PROJECT NIRMAL

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    At the backdrop of poor sanitation facilities in small and medium cities of Odisha, ‘Project Nirmal’ supports two fast growing urban hubs like Dhenkanal and Angul municipalities with a pilot intervention for appropriate & sustainable city wide sanitation service.

    Project Nirmal aims at benefitting both the municipalities to set up Faecal Sludge Management systems by establishing treatment plants to treat the faecal sludge

    8. Safe and Healthy Environment for Children of Waste Workers

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    “I felt very happy the moment I received the Identity Card from the Dept. of Labour and Employment, Govt. of Odisha” Says Salima Bibi a 25 year old informal waste worker from a Slum near Dumduma under Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC).

    Many informal waste workers in the state are being formalised and now accessing and availing their legitimate citizen rights.

    9. LITRE OF LIGHT 

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    Light comes from water bottles. Litre of Light is an open source technology which has been successfully experimented in 120 households in the slums of Bhubaneswar. It has now lessened the use of electric light during day time.

    Small children can even study and men and women can do delicate cloth weaving and other productive activities during day time with the light provided by these solar water bulbs.

    10. Safe and Healthy Environment for Children of Waste Workers
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    117 children of informal waste workers have been enrolled in schools in one day and are continuing their schooling; they were engaged in rag picking or related works previously.

    While working with alternative energy, Practical Action focuses on advocating and influencing the society for a step ahead towards meaningful development

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  • Knowledge is Power; #LetsdoPeriodTalk


    December 22nd, 2016

    Written by Pratikshya Priyadarshini

    A hot, sunny afternoon in the Sikharchandi slum of Bhubaneswar does not evoke the imagery of a drab, lazy life that it typically must. One can hear the din from a distance, hard rubber balls hitting against wooden bats, followed closely by the voices of young boys appealing instinctively to an invisible umpire. As we walk along the dusty paths, the roads wider than the adjacent houses, a number of young girls flock to us, greeting us with coy smiles. Young and old women, sitting on verandas, welcome us with pleasantries and call out to their daughters, “The Sakhi Club Didis are here!” We stop in front of a small pakka house, the purple paint shining brightly in the slanting afternoon sun while the rice lights from Diwali night hanging down the roof wait for the evening to be lit. 15 year old Sailaja comes out of the little door, wiping her hands and wearing an infectious smile on her face as she briskly lays down the mats for us to sit down. She then speaks to us about the Sunalo Sakhi program and her participation in it.

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    K. Sailaja Reddy, 15years old, Sikharchandi Cluster 2 Slum, Bhubaneswar

    Sailaja was 13 years old when she first got her periods. Anxious and fearful, she informed her mother about it. She knew very little about menstruation before the onset of her menarche. In fact, even after she got her periods, she had very little knowledge about the process and had harbored a number of misconceptions that she had begotten from her previous generations. She recalls that when she got her periods for the first time, she was isolated from everyone and kept inside her house owing to the customary practices of her culture. Moreover, she was placed under a number of restrictions by her family in terms of moving and playing, interacting with boys and men and speaking openly about periods. Sailaja had been using cloth to prevent staining back then. She was facing a number of difficulties in keeping herself clean since she had to wash the cloth on her own and dry it. It used to be inconvenient during the monsoons and winter as there would be no sunlight and the cloth wouldn’t dry up. Add to that, she was not even aware of the health repercussions that using unhygienic methods like cloth instead of sanitary napkins might bring about. Sailaja tells us that when the CCWD and Practical Action program ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ started in her community, a lot of young girls and women were reluctant to go and join the meetings. With the constant efforts of the community mobilizers, the Sakhi Club was created in the area as a forum for dissemination of knowledge and discussion regarding menstrual hygiene and related issues. A number of women and girls started actively participating in the programme. The community mobilizers used a number of strategies like audio visual screening, radio podcasts, visual charts, action learning, songs and dance in order to educate the participants about the various facts related to menstruation. They discussed the scientific reasons behind menstruation and busted many myths regarding periods. They also discussed various health issues pertaining to menstruation, ways to maintain hygiene during periods and practices to be followed for proper healthcare during adolescence. Gradually, the girls who were initially reluctant began to open up and started discussing their own menstrual problems with the community mobilizers who tried their best to clarify their queries. Sailaja herself was facing problems with her menstrual cycle. Her menstrual blood was thick and clotted which caused her severe abdominal pain and nausea. She spoke about it to the expert doctor on the radio programme ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ and the doctor advised her to drink 4-5 liters of water every day. She followed the doctor’s advice and noticed changes within a few days.

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    Sakhi Club Meetings in the Slums by ‘Sunolo Sakhi’

    Today the Sikharchandi Sakhi Club has 32 members. All of them, including Sailaja have switched to sanitary pads instead of cloth. Sailaja now changes her pads 3-4 times per day and disposes the used pads by either burning or burying them. She monitors her periods using a calendar. She uses the methods suggested by the community mobilizers like hot water press and ajwain water consumption to handle her abdominal aches during periods. Her problem with blood clot has also been completely resolved. She tells us that the conversation regarding menstruation has changed a lot at her home and in her community with most women now speaking openly about it and discarding the taboos and myths in favour of factual understanding. All the girls in the area now go to school during their periods while they were earlier stopped by their families. Sailaja now exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet and takes care of her health. She promises that she will keep spreading the message of the club among her younger friends and urge them to not be fearful or reluctant, to take care of their health and hygiene as well as to listen to the Sunalo Sakhi programme by Practical Answers on Radio Choklate so that their issues can be addressed.

    (Ms Pratikshya Priyadarshini, Student of TISS, Mumbai interned with Practical Answers and was engaged in Sunolo Sakhi project)

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  • ‘Sunolo Sakhi’, let’s do the #PeriodTalk


    September 27th, 2016

    Written by Aurosmita Acharya, Journalist, DNA, India

    ‘Sunolo Sakhi’, literally meaning ‘Sisters, let’s listen’, was broadcast for the first time this year on February 6 on a community radio station in Bhubaneswar.

    Aiming to spread awareness and bust taboos, especially in slum areas, the radio show has been designed by a UK-based NGO ‘ Practical Action’ to take the first steps in educate people about menstrual hygiene.

    Scheduled to be taken forward with the help of city-based FM stations , the initiative that was launched in January is set to be expanded in its second phase. Girls and young women in slums are encouraged to discuss their issues during ‘Live Phone-in discussions’ and dispel all the myths that have been associated with menstruation with the help of an Adolescent Hygiene Expert Dr Chayanika Mishra.

    ‘Most families are shy discussing menstruation matters’mens auro1

    “When it comes to menstrual hygiene very few women and girls know about the proper hygiene practices. In a city like Bhubaneswar, a handful of urban girls are aware about it,” explains Ananta Prasad, Communications Officer, “In such a situation, we were more concerned about our slum communities. So, we designed this programme for adolescent girls and young women in the slums, who are mostly daily wage workers or students.”

    Speaking about the importance of such a programme in slum areas, Adolescent Expert Dr Chayanika Mishra further adds saying, “Most families are shy discussing menstruation issues. So, they tend to practice wrong and baseless customs. In rural or slum areas, people do not conceive menstruation as a normal bodily phenomenon and hence girls are looked down upon.”

    Explaining further she adds, “Male counterpart, many a times, make fun of periods or do not realise the difficulties that a girl goes through during this time of the month. Besides, girls or young women in these areas are seen to be following unhygienic practices that lead to infection and other diseases. Hence, the need for such a programme arises.”

    ‘Sakhi Clubs have been formed to enable change’

    Within a span of five months, the programme has gained a lot of popularity in the slums and has been receiving calls from young girls and ladies in the age group of 18 yrs to 35 yrs.

    At present, the NGO has been able to socially mobilise 15 slums in Bhubaneswar via audio podcasting, mobile film screenings, and focused group discussions and through knowledge materials. To enable a change in the mindset, Sakhi-Radio clubs have been formed where young girls and women are encouraged to listen to the aired show during the weekend and discuss on the same.

    Regular film screenings, focused group discussions, individual counselling, audio pod casting, radio listeners club are the medium of interaction and knowledge sharing means adopted under the project. The live radio show has helped immensely in initiating a change, according to the organisers. The show is scheduled to be aired once a week for duration of an hour, with the local FM radio partner.

    Interestingly, the programme intends to reach the visually impaired, hearing and speech impaired as well through audio and visual books. The audio books would socially mobilise the visually impaired while the visual books which would make use of sign language would create an awareness on menstrual hygiene amongst those who are hearing and speech impaired, informed Ananta.

    This article was first published here by the journalist from DNA.

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  • Faecal Sludge Management in Odisha; The new sanitation challenge

    Healthy communities are the outcome of effective sanitation practices. Life and livelihood of people largely depends on their health and hence, sanitation holds a major role in it. Thinking beyond toilet, it’s time to ponder about treatment of the human waste and reuse it for the betterment of environment and a healthy life.

    As per the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP 2011) India contributes to 58 per cent of the world’s population defecating in the open. And according to last census in 2011, an overwhelming 1.7 lakh households (48.33%) or 8.5 lakh people in the slums of Odisha defecate in the open.

    It is noted that, if 1 truck of sludge is exposed unsafely then it is equivalent to 5000 people defecating in open. In this context, if we go by the mission of toilet for all, there will be a huge amount of scarcity of water and also the faecal sludge will be the next problem we will have to face.

    Looking at the smart approach of our urban planners and urban development practitioners, now it is highly essential for all urban settlements to come up with solution to deal with faecal sludge. Having proper disposal and a well-planned faecal sludge management is highly needed and should be given much importance in the current context. What if we achieve the objectives of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and we achieve hundred percent toilets in the state and country. And we do not have a sludge management policy which will lead the disposal of solid sludge into our river bodies and also open field. What are we aiming at!!! From open defecation to mass defecation, where are we heading?? Are building toilets will solve the problems or will create a new sanitation challenge??

    Let’s look beyond, while addressing a problem also let’s also address the broader sanitation challenges ahead. According to report by Odisha Water Supply and sewerage board, out of the 60 Lakh people staying in 23 Urban local bodies, 31 percent approx. are defecating in open and among people using toilets, only 49 percent households have septic tanks.

    This is again sad, that only 2 per cent liquid waste are treated in the state and 98 per cent either percolates to ground water or adjoining water bodies through surface drains without treatment. Waters from Rivers such as Brahmani, Daya, Kathajori can hardly be used for further drinking water purpose. Discharge from insanitary latrines, sewage flowing in drains, effluent from septic tanks, septage, and rampant open defecation are polluting the environment and having adverse health impacts to all of us residing in the state. At present no ULB other than Puri has any sewerage system inside the urban limits. This is shocking and we need to act upon it immediately.

    Here, comes the solution. The Faecal Sludge Management and treatment is the need of the hour. The untreated human waste what we call faecal sludge needs to be treated. Be it household level or institutional level, it needs to be treated and an appropriate system needs to be in place if we want healthy life and healthy community.

    There are few things which can major take away for an effective FSM policy and management. Decentralized FSM can be a good demonstration on these public utilities and Possibility to introduce decentralized FSM in newly developing areas, public institutions like schools, universities, hospitals, apartment etc is something which needs to be addressed by planning bodies. A conducive environment for private sector and the promotion of PPP model in FSM Private Sectors will create more scope for funding opportunity for infrastructural development. Onsite sanitation solutions seemed necessary to disseminate with sanitation stakeholders for their possible promotion.

    If we look at the government initiatives, now Septage management in nine cities / towns of the State (Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur, Berhampur, Baripada, Balasore, Bhadrak and Puri has been included under ‘AMRUT’ launched by GoI. The draft DPRs for septage treatment facility in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur and Baripada has been prepared by OWSSB. Pre-requisite measures like land identification and acquisition are in progress. In order to regulate construction, cleaning, maintenance, treatment and disposal of septage in urban areas, government has formulated the Odisha Urban Septage Management Guideline 2016. Government has taken steps for procurement of 86 nos of 3KL Cesspool Emptier for 57 ULBs. All these information has been shared by OWSSB in public domain but still there is a long way to go.  There has been experiments faecal sludge treatment in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Philipines, Argentina, Ghana and Brazil etc. Even in India there have been few experiments in Bangalore. But no urban local body has come up with a proper plan of action for the same. However, in Odisha the state government has partnered with few philanthropic organisations and there has been two pilot projects of faecal sludge management are happening in Dhenkanal and Angul Municipality. If these proved efficient use of faecal sludge then Odisha can be the pioneer in setting up a system for disposal of human excreta.

    Further to add on, the amount of water being wasted in toilet, if the faecal sludge treatment is not combined with waste water management then, in coming days, there will be a huge scarcity of water. This may also lead to dearth of drinking water, which may break the nerves of any government creating challenge for the urban governance.  When a comprehensive sanitation plan is being developed, faecal sludge management must be integral part of every sanitation plan, which builds on on-site sanitation facilities. Sludge management is an indispensable part of the maintenance of these facilities. However, in reality sludge management is often neglected in sanitation planning because the need for it is less apparent than it is for the provision of water supply or toilet facilities. Even when a sanitation plan foresees a component for sludge management, its implementation is often impaired for the same reasons. Sanitation planners and decision-makers must recognize the importance of sludge management.

    As we have seen the adverse impacts of human excreta causing harm to human health and hygiene now, its time we must be proactive. With the campaigns of building toilets we must be tighten our belt for proper disposal mechanism. On the eve of toilet day, the urban sanitation planners must look at the mechanism of proper faecal sludge management.

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  • 10 reasons why Practical Action is the best organisation I have worked in so far


    July 13th, 2016

    Since, I started my professional work life on 1 April 2010, I have served 8 different organisations in just 6 years and freelanced for numbers of other organisations voluntarily and also as consultants before. I clearly remember 13 July 2015, the day I had joined Practical Action, it was just like any other organisation I had served before. However, I had started my journey with a small road accident on the way to my office, which keeps the date full of memories for me.

    A new organisation with a complete new team of people, I had not thought of being very comfortable but the people here made work life so easy, my conscience forced me to pen down this article. This is my return to each and every employee of Practical Action family for making it happen.

    In India, people are skeptical about those who work with NGOs. I have faced so many situations where I feel people do not welcome the fact that I work in an NGO. When it comes to marriage proposals or parents, let me be very honest, the development sector is not something most people/parents look at. Such ironies apart, I made up my mind to mention 10 reasons why I love Practical Action more than my previous employers, however I have served in media houses, corporates and NGOs earlier. As I am celebrating my one year completion in the organisation, this is my return gift to the people around.

    1. Small is Beautiful : A theory worth working for

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    The organisation believes in the famous theory of the founder EF Schumacher i.e ‘Small is Beautiful’. Even in work, I experienced this is so beneficial to start with small and then expand. Most of our projects are actually small and having the best impact but with a bigger future prospective. This organisation inherits this principle within you.

    1. Witnessing Technology Justice

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    21st Century while experiencing the all technological advancements this organisation continues to prove how Technology is being used for poor communities and challenging social disparities. A small villager in Badamanjari village of Koraput is experiencing electricity where the grid is still a dream. The smile in their face will make your day. #TechnologyJustice

    1. Experiencing innovations

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    Innovations are the key to Practical Action’s work. Though we are new in our operations in India, some innovations are unique indeed. The Small Wind and Energy System in Kalahandi providing electricity from both Solar and Wind through a hybrid system is definitely an innovation. The other country offices have so many innovations and I experience them through in-house communication. These innovations inspire me to think out of the box.

    1. A liberal organisation

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    The organisation is liberal in terms of work culture. You get lots of encouragement during work and also fun elements are added. The organisation gives scope to reflect on your mistakes and also your successes. It gives much scope for self-assessment. The regular Monday meetings keep me updated about all others work and I self-asses my week’s achievements and short comings if any.

    1. No hierarchy

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    I was surprised and glad when I had got a personalised mail from our the then CEO Simon welcoming me the day I joined. Though I work under my line manager, matrix manager and senior manager I still never felt a strict hierarchy imposing on me. All my managers are so supportive and have given me the scope to grow and work with a free hand. (PS : Not trying to impress my managers, my appraisal is already done)

    1. Too much to learn

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    This is something I love the most about the organisation. In our India Office, though a small team, we have experts from different areas. Working with my WASH team, Energy officer, Monitoring, the Admin I get to learn a lot of things. Even, I get to learn from the finance team about managing the finance in project management. If I talk about communication, my mates in Nepal, UK and other country offices are so well equipped with knowledge, I have learned a lot during the whole year. I thank them all for making my stay here with full of learning.

    1. Travelling is an integral part of my work

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    Oh yes! If you personally know me, then I am sure, you would have guessed how happy I am when I travel. And the organisation gives me scope to travel. Though these are official trips but, I get to learn from projects, people, and places. In a span of one year, I have had 11 trips to different project locations and out of which 4 are out of the state and one is out of country perhaps my first foreign trip to Bangladesh.  All such work travels basically give me exposure to new work and let me document things both visually and in print.

    1. I get umpteen opportunities to click humans and write stories

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    Well, I am a born story teller, which I believe and try to create more stories. This happens when i meet people, I click them and write stories. Stories of change and stories of technology justice, this has made me a frequent blogger. I hope to create more such stories in both visuals and words for you all.

    1. It allows and approves my creativity

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    This is one organisation, which has allowed and actually approved my creative thinking. Some projects have actually taken shape with my creativity and value addition from my managers and other team mates. Even in other events, I had given free-hand to think rethink and create some magic.

    1. I love my team

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    I love my team, each of them. They get me some delicious food every day at the lunch table. I am like the finisher if something is left from the lunch boxes. The foodie in me loves them for making myself little fat. Jokes apart, being the youngest member of the team, I have been pampered, being scolded when I deserved that, being guided which happens quite often and being taught with lessons which have made me a better professional and a far better person.

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  • K Madhabi : An Entrepreneur in the making


    June 28th, 2016

    IMG_2085 (Cópia)In India, for every woman, cooking is a primary job. In villages and the countryside, women take care of the household work including cooking, collecting firewood and preparation of food. Using the traditional cook stoves causes respiratory diseases for women and children. In addition women collect firewood from the local forest and which is life threatening and lots of physical toil for them. It also creates a threat for the forest and its conservation. Though in short run, nobody talks about such issues, these have a greater impact in the long run.

    A study in 2014 supported by Practical Action, ‘Gender and Livelihoods Impacts of Clean Cook stoves in South Asia’ states that, “women largely shoulder the majority of the burden they naturally become exposed to allied hazards while cooking. They also additionally get exposed to hazards collecting fuel.”

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    K Madhabi receiving Youth Innovation Fund award from Mr Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister, Odisha.

    All these questions and problems have a solution now with the efforts of a group of tribal women in Koraput district in Odisha. K Madhabi, the leader of the group has earned accolades for their honest efforts. A low smoke project, prepared by K Madhabi and her group, ‘Access Grameen Mahila Udyog’ won a prestigious Youth Innovation Fund Award from the Chief Minister of Odisha.

    12 women from 5 blocks gathered together and formed this women group under the able leadership of Madhabi. At 26 years old Madhabi is now a successful entrepreneur and able to show a path to many like her in the community.

    The cook stove prepared by the group is an energy efficient one which has reduced the smoke to zero level and the cooking time by up to 50%, according to many users. It also consumes less firewood in comparison to other traditional cook stoves.

    “The journey was full of challenges. All the women first time learned the mason work and now can manufacture cook stoves of their own. They have divided the work for marketing and Madhabi is leading them.”

    IMG_2073 (Cópia)

    K Madhabi, among other awardees

    As well as manufacturing, Madhabi is also instrumental in knitting together women from different villages and disseminating knowledge about using low smoke cook stoves. She advocates for a better living for all women and is pretty much dedicated for that. This cook stove has already been tested by the experts from Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology and the group has been registered under the department which deals with small and medium scale business units.

    “Life is not the same as before. We have been treated with much respect in our community,” says Madhabi. The group has been getting regular orders and they are working hard to meet the demands.

    Practical Action’s India office provided technical and financial support for this group through a project called ACCESS (Access to Clean Cook-stoves for Economic Sustainability and Social Wellbeing) funded by the Johnson Matthey.

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  • Life light and livelihood: Konds of Badamanjari made it possible


    June 17th, 2016

    To talk about the future is useful only if it leads to action now ~ EF Schumacher

    Despite all efforts to provide basic amenities of life to tribals in the state, there are still a large number of places deprived of daily needs such as electricity and adequate transport. Similar is the case for many Konds residing in hilly terrains of eastern ghat of hills. Such is a village Badamanjari, in the valleys, surrounded by sky touching mountains. Though it’s just 20km away from the Semiliguda in the koraput district, but it will take more than hours to reach the village because of the uneven and hilly roads.

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    The approach road to Badamanjari

    18 years old Sunil Taring of Badamanjari is able to speak in English and now is a successful entrepreneur and continues education in Semiliguda College. Despite the odds he is able to mark this achievement as his village is now electrified; not with the state grid but by building a self-sustained micro hydro power generating unit. Badamanjari has set example in the district by generating 30KW electricity to provide light to all the villagers and in addition they are able to watch TV and few households have fans as well.

    Sunil is running a rice and flour mill and earning handsome amount of money, as more thhan 15 villages are dependent on the rice mill. Same is with Suresh Tadingi who has also set up a unit for turmeric processing.  IMG_2353Other agricultural products are also processed here. Both of these youth have set up example in the village. Both these units however is sharing 30 per cent of its profit every month to the Micro Hydro development fund which is being created for the regular maintenance of the unit. Life in this village is now more ease after the installation of the micro hydro units.

    A total of 110 household in the village are now electrified and leading a better life. In addition to self-sustain the micro hydro units, every individual household is contributing a token amount every month which is being used for the operation and maintenance of the unit. This village is using the natural water source to generate electricity. The water from the natural springs are the new source of generating electricity.IMG_2362

    It is worth mentioning here that in 2006first time this micro hydro unit was set up by the WIDA (Integrated Rural Development of Weaker-Sections in India). However the same became defunct and stopped producing electricity in 2011. But now it has been scaled up and made more sustainable by Practical Action, a UK based NGO with local support from Koraput Farmers Association. Practical Action also linked and supported the livelihood option alongside the electricity generation which is a new and innovating angle.

    Though efforts are being made to provide electricity to everyone in the country but these hilly terrains may need some more years to be lighted from the grid sources. However, micro hydro-electricity is the new solution to such needs to provide better life and solve the livelihood issue of people like Badamanjari. Decentralised distribution of electricity is something which the government should take it up in large scale.

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  • How should we approach faecal sludge management?


    June 8th, 2016

    Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) being the need of the hour, planners and policy makers must invest time and energy in research. As this is completely new to India and yet to develop a market and demand, I got an opportunity to visit Indah Water Konsortium, Malaysia to see their faecal sludge and sewage treatment sites.

    INDAH WATER KONSORTIUM SDN BHD (IWK) is the national sewerage company wholly-owned by Minister of Finance Incorporated and operates as a private company under the Company’s Act. It is responsible for providing sewerage services, operating and maintaining over 5,750 public sewage treatment plants and 13,000km networks of sewerage pipelines since April 1994 when it was awarded a concession to provide nationwide sewerage services. It is also entrusted with desludging over 1 million septic tanks and managing the sludge that is generated.

    Oxidation Pond

    Oxidation Pond

    They have a mixture of modern as well as early age technologies and are planning to replace all the old technologies with modern mechanical systems over the next few years. Along with some of their senior staff I visited Mechanical Dewatering Unit, Sludge Drying Bed, Trenching site, Geo tubes, Imhoff Tank, Aerated Lagoon, CSTP and SBR. Being a non-technical person, I won’t go into the details but rather, highlight the learning and outcomes that every planner in India trying out FSM should keep in mind.

    Highly mechanized equipment is the standard feature of most of the treatment sites at present.  There are several logical reasons for going for mechanical treatment plants, however one important reason is such plants do not require much land. Usually the land costs are very high in Malaysia. But one needs to accept that mechanical plants really need technically competent people to manage, operate and maintain them.

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    Imhoff Tank

    The energy in form of electricity they use is huge. I learned that 40% of the treatment unit’s expenditure is on electricity. This adversely affects the business model of FSM. I also visited Imhoff Tanks which are a zero energy based treatment technology. However as the mechanical units have many advantages over older technologies they have to go for these. In this context, solar or green energy could be used to increase sustainability and make it an economic business model.

    Initially IWK had not taken into consideration the use of end products like the dried sludge and the treated water. Now they are facing problems disposing of the dried sludge though they are able to release the treated water to the river and have started reusing the treated water in few of their offices. I was told that given a chance to begin again they would start with proper planning for the reuse of the end product. In such a scenario it’s very important to plan out the disposal of all the output. Reuse for something meaningful is something the planners must look at. In our projects in India, we are looking at using sludge as manure and there are other possibilities as well. But to a great extent the prior planning of reusing treated sludge or waste water is something which will change the fate of the FSM plan.

    The fixed tariff for providing treatment services did not increase at a rational rate over the years. The government could not increase the cost because of the fear that people might not react positively.  So the company faced a severe loss. However, the government decided to take over responsibility and took over the company, originally started as private company. This means the government decided to subsidize the whole business for political reasons, which creates an important question as to whether there was a business plan!

    Three of their units are making profit because the users are able to pay a higher amount for services like emptying and transportation as most of their users are commercial buildings. But is it possible in an Indian context? Centralised systems if not privatised may suffer losses. If privatised, could be properly regulated to serve all classes of people, adding another dimension to FSM in India.

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    CSTP

    Building legislation is something we can think of in a country like India. Here is Malaysia, a builder who constructs more than 30 houses has to provide a treatment plant and hand over it to IWK to maintain and operate. This helps ensure the availability of an adequate number of treatment plants in most of the locations which ultimately help the environment.

    The relationship between the local authorities and the federal government is worth discussing. Previously, sanitation was the job of local authorities but when this treatment plan was built the federal government took over responsibility. Now the local authorities are taking no interest in the work. Sometimes getting land for different process of treatment is becoming difficult. In a country like India, where a 3 tier system exists, planners need to ensure they keep all of them engaged in the work. The system should be developed in such a way, people responsible for the FSM must be accountable anda  social audit is a must for the same reason.

    I was amazed to see the work they are doing. While open defecation is unknown to Malaysia I belong to a country where around half the population are practising open defecation, half the toilets are used as store rooms and whoever uses the toilet is not bothered about their sludge treatment. But this visit really gave me a hope. If we can become OD free as our Prime Minister has proclaimed, then we need a reality check with our sludge management systems and policies. Practical Action and some other organizations have started the process but we have a long way to go and much still to be done.

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