Toilet Revolution: Shyama V. Ramani at TEDxMaastricht

Mon, 16Sep2013

This is one of the best Sanitation/ Global Health stories we have seen lately. Delivered in a  very pleasurable consumable format, by a great speaker who make the topic reachable to a board spectrum of professionals and people. It’s antidotal in nature, while being universal in the realities of solving a village’s sanitation issues. Shyama has an honesty that needs to be incorporated into the newly developing transparency practices oft the world’s NGOs . This talk needs to be shown to the NGO’s and their altruistic “minions” before they venture out to help their global brothers and sisters.

The story starts out after audience imagining life with out toilets with Shyama explaining how she as pure novice, walks into a coastal village after a tsunami, and realizes she must bring the villages toilets back.

She learns along the way  “…2.4 billion people don’t even have access to a toilet that functions, 1 billion don’t have access to any toilet the just have to defecate anywhere they can …” Thus the “….lack of waste management and toilets is making a killer that we are not talking about enough … diarrhea…. the number one killer in most developing countries…”

She Googles and contacts “experts” to educates herself with the facts to get the job done  or so she thinks.

Upon the last new toilet being being initiated with a squat of a villager behind closed doors, Shyama, unlike many of the NGO’s, does not walked away.  The core of her captivating story is what happens afterward … The door is opened, the veil of naivety is exposed and lifted. Where/when most project fall into failure, she and her partner begins the long diagnostic/prognostic/improvement cycle.

Shyama  reminds us it is a an effort that is ongoing with more to learn and invites us to come back… It will be a crime if we do not see the next installment of this story as it continues to unfold.

Essential and very practical points abound within her story. One that are be showing up in other stories from around the world- and  hopepfully becoming a  din that must be addressed. With some paraphrasing, here are a few I see tucked in her tail:
1 NGO’s can’t do it alone and succeed; the villagers are needed – with a vastly redefined roll for NGOs.
2 Technical experts/ engineers may not be the social experts – both are needed.
3 Toilets at the onset are not alway seen as valuable/desirable assets. Education is needed before during and after
4 Women and men of the villages do not have the same perspective on sanitation. The project must address both separately as well as together .
5 Villages without ongoing support services will quickly have “…fossils of abandoned stinking toilets allover…”
6 Schools as an institution do not just naturally promote and desire ecosan toilets. They must also be nurtured. (details not addressed in this piece – but would be important to learn more about)
7 Building heathy social stimulus/pressure/ pride must be part of the scope
8 People who want the toilet must be educated on use and care
9 The villagers must be part of the economic model – the social model. Such pieces as manufacturing / construction/ distribution/ sales/ support / education/ promotion/ etc
10 Microfinance is a viable solution – (a work in progress in the story)
11 Toilets can provide a financially valuable natural resource – fertilizer
12 This all makes it a slower road, but it is a viable road, unlike the fast road the many NGO’s are building.
13 100% may be the target but  80% is a not a bad number to start with- and even that require lots of work.

Shyama  reminds us it’s a an effort that is ongoing and invites us to come back ,so to speak.  It will be a crime if we do not see the next installment of this story as it continues to unfold.

 

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