MOBILE MECHANICS (JALABANDHU)
It is estimated that 50,000 rural water points in India are broken and unused. Water For People-India is working to solve this problem and create long-lasting water solutions by developing a mobile mechanics program that trains local mechanics to provide regular maintenance and timely repair of water systems. The mechanics are paid by the community water committees for their services. This private-sector approach has the potential to provide better service, less downtime, and greater efficiency. It offers new economic opportunities for mechanics while giving local communities alternatives for system maintenance.
Trained mechanics (known as “Friends of Water,” or Jalabandhu in Bengali) visit communities for regular maintenance checks of the water points; communities can also contact them if major, more urgent, repairs are needed. Although initially paid by both the community and Water For People–India, many Jalabandhu are now independent businesses earning their income solely from communities. The Jalabandhu program initially began in South 24 Parganas, and in 2011 expanded into the districts of East Medinipur and Murshidabad. This year, the program is continuing to grow and will take place in Sheohar and Purulia.
The common component of all Water For People–India programs is the emphasis on district participation and ownership. In each district, together with its partner organizations, Water For People–India works to establish and train water committees to help manage their water systems. The training includes basic maintenance of the water point, hygiene education, record keeping, and opening a bank account for collection of operation and maintenance fees. Each household accessing the water point contributes to the fund managed by the water committee, and these funds allow the water committees to pay for upkeep of the systems.
Zero-Subsidy Sanitation Loan Program
Water For People–India’s zero-subsidy sanitation loan program provides households with loans so that they can purchase toilets that meet their individual needs. The sanitation loan program is designed to complement the national government’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), which is a national program to reduce open defecation and help households access sanitation facilities. Through the TSC, the government established Rural Sanitary Marts (RSMs), which produce and sell sanitation materials to households. The government also subsidizes toilets through these RSMs. While the TSC has been successful in getting sanitation facilities to some households, it does have problems: lack of options, no technical support for households when constructing the toilets, lack of quality, difficulty in accessing RSMs, no hygiene education, and no loans available for individuals. The sanitation loan program set up by Water For People–India addresses these issues by providing households with more toilet options, hygiene education, technical expertise and support, easier access to hardware, and the ability—through a loan provided by CBOs and SHGs —to afford the toilet that best meets their needs. Once the loan has been repaid, the money goes into a revolving fund that provides new loans for the next year.
Gender-Sensitive Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Education in Secondary Schools
Water For People–India is empowering the next generation of women in India by making girl students the designers of new water and sanitation facilities in secondary schools. In 2008, monitoring and feedback from girls prompted Water For People–India and its partners to reassess the school water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion program. Feedback showed that girls felt strong discomfort when they had to use toilets close to the boys’ toilets or located in front of the school, where they could be seen going in and out. Lack of privacy was especially difficult for girls who were menstruating, as they were often targets of rumor and taunting by fellow students.
Water For People–India is addressing these concerns by placing girls in charge. Girls now actively participate in the design of new facilities and work closely with Water For People–India and its partners to construct water and sanitation systems that meet the needs of students and teachers. The new structures include girl-friendly features, such as separate hand-washing and sanitation facilities out of view of the school, wider bathroom stalls with mirrors so that girls can check their saris for stains when menstruating, and simple incinerators to dispose of used menstrual cloths/pads.
Water For People–India began working with partners in primary schools in 2009. The program consists of establishing or rehabilitating drinking water and hand-washing stations, as well as sanitary blocks with separate toilets for boys and girls. Hygiene education is also a critical component of this program, teaching students at a young age about the benefits of hygienic behaviors such as hand washing. Water For People–India coordinates a series of classes, rallies, and plays to get students excited about the upkeep of new facilities and hygiene education. In addition, to adhere to government policy, Water For People–India and its partners try to organize health checkup camps at each school.