Begapally | Guluru | Beechaganahalli
7:00 a.m - After a sleepless night, we jump into an Uber .(yes there is Uber in India!) on our way to meet our new friend - Mr. CPC Shekarappa, a Director at the Catalyst Group. He kindly agreed to be our guide on our journey to Begapally area, where the Swasti (part of the Catalyst Group) runs a variety of WASH initiatives.
Our day started on a positive note as we were awed to meet the President of the Gram Panchayat of Beechaganahalli and her deputy (who was very proud of the local representation of gender equality). During the warm welcome, the Gram Panchayat representatives told us about the water situation in their village.
“Before Swasti installed their RO( Reverse Osmosis ) water plant it was a big problem, no one wanted to marry our daughters, because of their yellow teeth. now we don't have this problem anymore. The water taste is good, even the food is better now.”
The water from the RO plant is used only for drinking. After a traditional tea, we continued our village excursion with CPC(Our guide).
We visited the local clinic and there we were exposed to the hard conditions that India face. At the local clinic, we first met the reality on the ground - a small clinic, with one doctor and two assistants, serves 120 patients a day! The only toilet (in the doctor's office) was broken and there was no water or soap.
“...My staff and I try our best to promote hygiene but it is impossible without the practical tools. How can I educate my patients, and set a good example, when I myself don't even have the proper facilities?”
Despite the bad conditions in the clinic, the doctor's advice was: it’s much more important to have hygiene facilities in the schools.
“...It is hard to promote behavioral change among the elderly population but, the children are more open-minded and will resistless.”
Later that day we visited two governmental schools. In both schools, Swasti supplied new toilet facilities for boys and girls, as part of the Swasti WASH program. There, we met the teachers’ board and had a chance to talk to the children. It was uplifting to discover how well educated they are about hygiene practices.
We asked them what they do when they don't have water at home?
"You need to go and buy water"
Why is it important to use soap?
"It kills the germs"
However, the condition of the hygiene facility doesn't meet the level of their hygiene awareness (again a great outcome of the Swasti WASH education program): while the first school had water taps for hand washing (accessible only during lunchtime and located far from the toilets), the second school had only, untreated, well-groundwater and a bucket. No soap was available in both schools.
Bangalore Slams, Karnataka, India
The next day, we had a few free hours before our flight to Chennai and so we decided to walk into Bangalore “slums”. There we saw, first hand, how in spite of their location, in the center of a big city, residents are deprived of decent sanitation and hygiene facilities. Toilets are seldom available and even when the facility itself is accessible, it is unusable. There is no drainage solution for flowing water and the air is highly polluted. Water is kept in open plastic barrels or buckets, making it highly vulnerable to contamination (by flies, mosquito larvae, and eggs, surrounding animals etc.). The water can’t be used for either drinking or hygienic needs, however, people in the slum don't really have any alternative.
Apollo Health For All Initiative in Aragonda, Andhra Pradesh, India
Our next day started early at 5:30 AM, as we headed towards our next destination - The Apollo Health For All(the biggest hospital branch in India) CSR initiative in Aragonda (Andhra Pradesh, India). During four hours, we became fascinated by the beauty of India’s nature – clean and wild. As we passed through the local villages, we have faced a similar reality to what we saw earlier that week, in Karnataka, bringing a feeling of dissonance - rich nature on the one hand and disadvantaged communities on the other.
When we finally arrived at Aragonda, we drove directly to the Apollo center, where we met Dr. Rajagopal and Mr. Ram Babu. After a warm welcome, we started the tour that would change our perspective once again. Apollo’s CSR initiative presented us how things could be and should be - at their new Society Center where people could gather and bond,
"...We wanted to create a place where everyone could meet friends, play sports etc."
Yoga classes (for the mind and soul) and sewing classes, alongside a small sewing factory for local women, where they can learn how to sew clothes and bags
"...We teach them how to sew and provide the equipment. The bags go to the Apollo hospitaland we pay them through a bank account that we encourage them to open, making sure the money is saved by the women themselves..."
Then we saw seven drinking-water filtration plants (5 RO and 2 Sand Filtration). Moreover, the local schools (both private and governmental) are supported by WASH programs.
"We also supplied toilets to private households, drastically reducing the open defecation. It is now an area that is declared - Open Defecation Free"
This community had a nursing college, one big hospital, free clinics, two mobile clinics (with a mobile laboratory) for people who can’t get to the clinics due to disabilities as well as, affordable and health programs tailored to the family’s income. Furthermore, health education was provided to each of the local families.
"Each family has its medical ID under which there is a family member ID with all the relevant information about treatment and medication, both in hard copy stored by the family, and soft copy (on our platform)"
The program also provides food to support the local elderly population on the one hand and malnutrition education, for young mothers and for their children, on the others alongside monthly blood test.
It was uplifting to observe how Apollo investment in the local community was yielding, measurable, positive outcomes. Apollo's CSR program, led by Mr. Ram Babu, created a holistic physical and mental health ecosystem - where the local community has an active role in day to day care of their more vulnerable member, elderly and children alike. The local Gram Panchayats asked Apollo to provide even more support via programs for sanitation, agriculture, education and more. The household incomes are increasing with each new program and today, many and more people are being able to build a better, healthier, future for themselves.
Sanitation puts a heavy burden on communities across India and even with the great initiatives we saw (Swasti and Apollo did and doing an inspiring work), many problems remain unsolved - with lack of access to soap, toilet paper, and hand washing facilities.
Even in communities where the actual facility exists, it is inaccessible or located far from the toilets.
Children are highly aware of the need for hygiene, however, they must have sufficient facilities, at home and in school, including soap and water, to act on this awareness.
There are Gram Panchayats who are willing to improve - providing their children with a better future.
Change is not only necessary but possible, however, much work needs to be done.