By Sonia Sarkar
MUMBAI, India, 06 March 2015 - Every time more than 100 girls and women inhabiting the Shivaji Nagar slum in Dahisar West in Mumbai chose to use the community toilet in their vicinity, they were left in the dark—quite literally. Lack of lighting and loosely fitted doors made the experience both uncomfortable and embarrassing.
This was more than two years ago.
Today, the conditions have improved vastly, thanks to the intervention of UNICEF which engaged young girls from the slums, and also brought along NGOs, to change things. As the word spread about the refreshing difference in people’s lives, more youngsters volunteered and more such slums in other areas were steered into having clean, safe and hygienic community toilets.
This inspiring story took its roots with some unlikely heroes—13-year-old Sandhya Sahu and 14-year-old Kiran Sharma—who, determined to alter the situation, led a group of teenage girls to launch an awareness campaign in July 2014 in order to bring transformation to the deplorable state of toilets in this neglected ghetto colony. Thanks to their efforts, the toilets now have doors, are properly lit and well-maintained. “We created awareness about the issue in our community through the various projects we made at the Child Resource Centre,” Kiran said with a smile.
Sandhya, who was a part of the NGO, Committed Communities Development Trust (CCDT), added, “A group of children from our NGO went and applied to the Bombay Municipal Corporation to get lights and a door for the toilet at Shivaji Nagar.”
Kiran, Sandhya, Sagar, Pradeep, Ashvini and Jarina are Swachchata Doots or Cleanliness Ambassadors. They were among the 24 children from Mumbai who took part recently in the trophy tour of the ICC T20 World Cup 2016. Sporting Team Swachh t-shirts, they attended a WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) clinic and interacted with renowned cricketers— Sameer Dighe and Diana Edulji—at the Wankhede stadium. The cricketers shared cricketing tips and discussed the importance of hygiene and sanitation with the children.
Team Swachh is an integrated nationwide initiative to build a social movement for sanitation and toilet use. It intends to raise awareness about challenges faced by disadvantaged children, and focuses on improving sanitation.
Vikas Chaurasiya, also from CCDT, said, “Since diseases spread because of not washing hands, we try to make people of our community understand the importance of washing hands.”
These Swachchata Doots are among 2,500 children from Mumbai, covered by UNICEF Maharashtra’s child protection programme that partners with NGOs such as Pratham Mumbai Education Initiative, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) and CCDT, to create safe urban spaces for children. Apart from Shivaji Nagar, the project touches the lives of children in the surrounding areas as well, such as Rafi Nagar in Chembur (M/East Ward) and Lallubhai Compound in Mankhurd (M/East Ward).
How did the change begin?
Sagar Reddy, 17, and Pradeep Karande, 16, put theory to action in their community at Lalubhai Compound. These youngsters helped identify an abandoned maidan that was being used as a waste-dumping ground. Along with their friends, and with the support of the YUVA staff, they mobilised the government machinery concerned to get the maidan cleared of garbage. They also helped create awareness about the importance of keeping the maidan garbage-free and about using dustbins.
Today, the space has undergone a complete makeover, with children from all age groups flocking it as it has been turned into a playground! Sagar and Pradeep not only reclaimed the space for the public but made it safe for children. Their initiative, guided by UNICEF, has also led to better hygiene practices in the locality.
A similar exercise was carried out at Rafi Nagar, where a majority of homes are kuccha and built around a massive dumping ground. Children play on the poorly-paved streets, strewn with paper and plastic bags. Bringing about a change were Ashvini Kori, 15, and Jarina Ansari from this neighbourhood who participated in the handwash and hygiene camps organised by Pratham. They volunteered to ensure that their parents, siblings, grandparents and neighbours also learn and maintain personal hygiene.