Actress, singer/songwriter and PSI Global Ambassador Mandy Moore traveled to Bihar, India to discuss options for sanitation with women and their families. Less than 1 in 3 people in Bihar have access to sanitation. PSI is helping to facilitate microfinance loans and coordinated service delivery to bring dignity and safety to those seeking a toilet.

An Unexpected Question About Toilets: Day 1 in India With Mandy Moore


By Mandy Moore, PSI Ambassador

This morning for breakfast, I joined the PSI India team with their partners and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to learn that they are building toilets and developing a sanitation system in Bihar by turning the traditional nonprofit model on its head. PSI India has developed a social enterprise and is treating the open defecation problem like a business problem.

The idea is to make toilets convenient, affordable and attractive in a state where 80% of the population currently lives without them.

When communities lack basic sanitation, kids die (more than 450,000 did in India last year due to diarrheal disease), people get sick, and girls and women are at greater risk of rape and violence when they’re simply trying to find a private place outdoors to relieve themselves.

We piled in the car and drove about an hour to Daniawan, where I was greeted by a dozen or so women and invited to join their meeting. They’ve named their group Durga, after the goddess of strength and power.

Turns out it’s the perfect name.

I was prepared for a quiet start to the conversation, but they jumped right in. They are spirited, smart, determined and outspoken.

They spoke passionately about how dangerous, undignified and inconvenient it was to have to relieve themselves in the fields, especially during the rainy season.

Having a toilet gave them dignity and respect. And it’s keeping their families – especially kids and older relatives healthier.

The group took out a loan through the Centre for Development Orientation and Training (CDOT), a microfinance effort started in 2000 by RR Kalyan, a man so dedicated to serving the needs of women, he invested his own money into opening a first-ever one-stop toilet shop for lower-income families.

The loans and shops make it possible for people who previously couldn’t afford a toilet to buy one. Oh, and by the way, all of the loans that have been given to construct 400 toilets so far have been paid back in full.

At the shop, or sanitation mart, as he calls it, people can choose the toilet model and housing that’s right for them. While this may not be an innovative idea for you and me, in India, one of the main obstacles to building a toilet is that people have to cobble all of the components and tradesmen together from different places — brick layers, pit diggers, cement mixers — and then find all the materials for the toilet separately. It can take up to six months.

PSI’s work in sanitation is changing all that. Now people can afford a permanent toilet that’s attractive, that they can afford from a single vendor. And, through another innovative business approach, they benefit from mechanical waste removal and treatment. People can even get cleaning supplies like Domex through funding by Unilever.

But the women aren’t concerned with the inner workings of the business model, what’s important to them is how it’s changed their lives.

A woman from Daniawan in Bihar, India, Anita Devi, says she joined several other women in her town to purchase a toilet because "it gives dignity and respect to girls." PSI launched a social enterprise in the region to help fund and build more than 16,000 toilets.
A woman from Daniawan in Bihar, India, Anita Devi, says she joined several other women in her town to purchase a toilet because “it gives dignity and respect to girls.” PSI launched a social enterprise in the region to help fund and build more than 16,000 toilets.

“Now I have dignity and respect,” said Anita Devi, a woman who covered her head with a printed sari.

“It’s convenient,” another chimed in.

Towards the end of the meeting, I asked if they had any questions for me. And, they did. Just one.

Preeti, a married mother of two from Masnapur Village in India, told her in-laws and husband that if they didn't get a toilet, she'd go back to her parents who did. Her husband paid for a toilet through PSI's social enterprise. One of the most popular features of the toilets PSI is helping to construct in India is the small "cubby shelf" in upper right corner that lets women store sanitary supplies for menstruation.
Preeti, a married mother of two from Masnapur Village in India, told her in-laws and husband that if they didn’t get a toilet, she’d go back to her parents who did. Her husband paid for a toilet through PSI’s social enterprise. One of the most popular features of the toilets PSI is helping to construct in India is the small “cubby shelf” in upper right corner that lets women store sanitary supplies for menstruation.

A woman in a bright pink sari spoke out. I am Lekha she said, “And, what should we say to people who try to make fun of us or shame us for taking a loan for a toilet?”

What I loved about this question was that there was no doubt she was getting a toilet, and she knew the obvious benefits to her and family. She only needed a little help thinking through how to respond to the haters.

I thought for a moment and we talked about it as a group, I shared that I’d taken a loan for my home and that I thought what she is doing — investing in the health and dignity of her family —is something very admirable. There’s no shame in that. In fact, she’s setting an example for others. I’ll bet in time, they’ll be asking for her help on how to get a toilet in their homes too.

She simply smiled.

One thought on “An Unexpected Question About Toilets: Day 1 in India With Mandy Moore”

  1. This is an awesome approach to ending the sanitation manic in many countries. I am very much aware of the sanitation credit method in solving sanitation problems and i think it’s the best method going forward in many countries that has this issues. Currently as I’m writing, I’m overwhelmed to be reading your post because as recent postgraduate student, I am undertaking similar approach that is to establish sanitation credit through a revolving grant given to me by the Rotary foundation of Foxoboro, to work in Liberia. It has not been easy to say that I have this money but it’s only to be used as a loan to construct your own toilet. People here in Liberia as it is the same else where, they are much more reliant on charity. And in sanitation, charity will not allow households/ families to own their own toilet. So, I’m glad that this approach is working in India because it gives me hope.

    Like

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