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GiveLove travelled to India in July 2015 as part of a collaborative project to introduce compost sanitation at Centurion University in Odisha. Our India program launch was supported in part by Centurion University, the Bazaloni Group Limited (a tea estate) in Assam, and a grant from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) to provide international experience for students interested in global environment issues. Centurion assembled a team to spearhead the technical training and assist with the pilot projects in Parlakhemundi and Assam. Faculty and graduate students worked together with GiveLove to design an EcoSan Training program appropriate for local contexts. The India team (led by Vishal Singh) will work in collaboration with GiveLove to expand its training efforts with other organizations, while strengthening the field-based learning of our new trainers. Despite the cultural obstacles to implementing EcoSan in India, our partners have shown their commitment to exploring composting and other approaches that can lead to safer sanitation practices. Our teams look forward to future collaborations and experiments in organics recycling. The Centurion team travelled to Chennai for their first solo training in January 2016.

Centurion University

GiveLove launched a collaborative EcoSan Training partnership with Centurion University, a skills-training college in the state of Orissa.

Four UCSC undergraduate students participated in the Eco-San project, which was funded in part by a UC work-study grant to provide students with work experience solving real-world problems. Professor Annapurna Pandey led the trip and organized the various training and community workshops with Program Director, Alisa Keesey.

The group made presentations and facilitated discussions in four different languages to local government, health officials, and both urban and rural communities in the region to learn about the local context and multitude of sanitation challenges.

GiveLove trained six trainers, and five senior faculty members during the collaborative training workshop that now forms the basis of our India Go-team. By working with a diverse group of partners in India, GiveLove hopes to spark innovation and build capacity of skills training organizations and NGOs exploring EcoSan.

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Assam Tea Garden

The new team from Centurion continued on to the Assam region where we spent a week working with the managers at the Balazoni Tea Garden to explore EcoSan approaches to make organic fertilizer for the garden — which employs and houses 4,000 workers.

Our team built two demonstration toilets at a primary school on the property and trained 300 children how to use them as part of our EcoSan Orientation Training. The government's toilet project had not yet completed construction, and the existing toilets were non-functional. GiveLove plans to return to Assam to assist the tea estate in their efforts to establish an organics recycling project that will convert the latrine waste from the property to organic fertilizer.

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Chennai Ecosan Project

Centurion’s EcoSan team travelled to Chennai in January 2016 to carry out their first solo EcoSan training in partnership with the Regina Charitable Trust. Our team worked with local NGOs and community stakeholders to kick off a two-year composting pilot in the region in the Koothavakkam Village.

The Chennai EcoSan project will serve as a test model to promote EcoSanitation and the use of compost toilets. The Centurion team will work with stakeholders to train a team of volunteer compost technicians, and teach the community how to use and manage their compost toilets.

Prameela Yadav, our gender specialist, organized workshops for women and girls from the community to talk about local needs and problems, and ways to work together to end open defecation.

Sanitation Challenges

Over half of India’s people do not have access to a functional toilet, or facilities to bathe properly. According to UNICEF, the hygiene crisis impacts 60% of the population. Studies indicate that 625 million people practice open defecation. The Government of India (GOI) has launched a Clean India initiative to build millions of toilets and end open defecation by 2019. Despite national efforts to improve sanitation, WASH practitioners and researchers are now starting to realize that the solution to India’s sanitation crisis isn’t as simple as they once thought. Efforts are now shifting away from building more toilets to promoting actual toilet use.

Like many low-income countries, India lags behind on sanitation infrastructure and ways to treat the fecal sludge produced by latrines and vault toilets. It’s estimated that over 95% of the toilet material (excreta) in India eventually ends up untreated in the environment. The improper disposal of feces leads to widespread fecal contamination of water resources, which results in the spread of serious infectious diseases. Health experts warn that without major improvements in sanitation and hygiene, efforts to provide potable water alone will not break the cycle of oral-fecal route disease, because people are living in highly contaminated environments.

Gender Issues The lack of sanitation disproportionately impacts children and women, as well as the elderly and disabled. Chronic diarrheal disease causes permanent stunting, and contributes to high rates of premature death in children age five and younger— killing 300,000 children per year.

Women and girls who don’t have access to a safe toilet are extremely vulnerable to sexual assault when defecating outside and traveling away from their homes in the dark. Women are more prone to infections because they lack clean water to bathe with, and girls regularly miss school due to difficulties with menstrual hygiene.

Campaigns like the "No Toilet, No Bride" initiative have made some impact, but Total Sanitation (TS) requires a long-term effort to provide water, waste treatment, and education to promote behavior change. Innovation in India has enormous potential if the bias towards water-based sewage approaches is challenged. The promotion of EcoSan and decentralized sanitation have placed a higher priority on the safe disposal and re-use of fecal sludge. Studies suggest that decentralized sanitation systems are five times less expensive than conventional sewer-based solutions.

There are very few affordable, or easy to manage toilet solutions that meet the needs of low-income countries. Vault toilets and improved pit latrines require regular maintenance, which people are typically unwilling to do. In India, the caste system and cultural notions of pollution dictate who can handle human waste. And, most low-caste waste workers don’t have any professional training in waste management, so dangerous fecal sludge is often dumped illegally or disposed of improperly.

NGOs now understand that building millions of toilets will not solve India’s complex problem without the development of better waste treatment technologies.

Researchers have also discovered that the majority of people with access to toilets may not even be using them.

Men in rural areas actually prefer open defecation to using a latrine. Focus group respondents report that they feel going outdoors to defecate is more pleasurable in fresh air than using a dirty latrine — and they view open defecation as part of a healthy and wholesome lifestyle.

Both men and women in traditional communities view open defecation as a social activity. In many rural areas this may be the only time women are free to leave the household to socialize or take a break from the burden of daily chores. Households may actually shun the idea of having a toilet near the home, because they believe that feces are polluting. Many people will not empty the latrines when they become full, and will resort to hiring low-caste workers to remove the fecal sludge. Going outside to toilet is a normal, daily routine for millions of Indian people and the practice is not likely to end in the near future. These findings should not be surprising. It’s no mystery that people don’t like to use smelly latrines, especially when they are situated close to living quarters.

Complicated notions of pollution, space, and caste make sanitation work so difficult to implement on a mass scale. But one thing is for sure, everyone is finally talking about a Clean India — and compost toilets are part of the conversation.