With great infrastructures and skyscrapers surrounding us, we may forget, or choose to ignore, the fact that many parts of the world lack basic facilities. Twenty-two global executives from ISS Facility Services and Barclays Capital Services set forth on a journey to Jabalpur in Central India, to join hands with Sowers Exchange, the local community, a local NGO and our social purpose organisation (‘SPO’) partner, Ecosoft, to transform Silua Government School’s water and sanitation situation (‘the Project’). Silua Village serves families that were forced to move and make way for the Bargi Dam. The community struggled to find a sense of belonging and economic prospects in the new environment. Many families have considered relocating away from the village since their children are consuming polluted water, as this caused some of them to get weak and sick. The parents are also concerned with the fact that their children have to relieve themselves in open areas, leading to problems regarding their safety and dignity.
Prior to the project, the school had no access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Teachers and students were required to fetch water through a hand pump for 2 hours everyday; however, the water source was heavily polluted due to sewage contamination, which affected the health and hygiene conditions of both students and teachers. The existing toilets were defunct and the teachers and students were forced to defecate in the open.
Value created in the community – much higher impact than just clean water and sanitation
The Project repaired a bore well so students and teachers now have access to drinkable water via 2 overhead storage tanks which are also connected to taps for the toilets. A total of 8 sets of bathrooms were built for the boys and girls of the school. Besides these basic facilities, the Project utilised our SPO, ECOSOFT‘s Air Intermittent Recirculating Reactor technology¹ to build a decentralised wastewater recovery system. This system recycles up to 95% of the waste water which allows students and teachers to drink and reuse.
Clean water and sanitation provided the community around Silua Village with hope and rejuvenation. The Project gave the parents assurance of safety for their children, as their food and water are now pure and clean. With the clean toilets at school, the parents are encouraging their children, especially girls, to pursue education. The Project has allowed the community to live with civic pride and has broken many barriers that previously inhibited children from attending school. Furthermore, the Project has motivated officials to explore extending the school to offer high school education, creating more opportunities for the children in the villages.
Being able to afford a home or pay my kids through convent school would not be as important as being able to be a part of this project. The respect and human capital I have earned during my time working here is far more valuable than any amount of wages.
Mr. Gungu, one of the parents and community leaders of the village
The project also provided an improved learning environment, especially for 7th grade students and teachers. As their classroom is located adjacent to the site of the old defunct toilets, the strong smell over powered the classroom, they preferred classes outside of the school under the trees. After the completion of the project, students and teachers said that the classroom provided them with a better learning environment.
Another significant outcome of the Project was the increased safety and dignity among the students and teachers. For the community, open defecation was their only option as the school toilets were overflowing with human waste. Everyday before dawn and after dusk, women in the community would quietly walk into areas of darkness to excrete in order to avoid harassment. However, such actions are not without risks, as during the summer days, venomous snakes may hide in long grass and could possibly bite them. Besides animals, students also fear if they are seen defecating in open areas, it may cause problems for their family members. However, their safety is often at risk as they need to run across a major thoroughfare to reach the facilities. With the introduction of new sanitation facilities at the school, safety and hygiene risks have been largely eliminated, providing students and teachers with an increased dignity.
India is one of the world’s fastest growing economy, yet many rural areas lack basic sanitation facilities. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), there is sufficient water to feed everyone on this planet, but due to poor economics and strategic planning, water scarcity affects over 40% of the human population. With the help of responsible companies like ISS and Barclays, similar projects should be implemented in communities without clean water, providing the less fortunate with basic human needs, as well as creating a better living environment for generations to come.
¹ A built-in wastewater treatment system that takes in septic overflow from homes and residential communities and treats the water on-site, reducing piping and transportation needs.
Contributor: Caleb CHAN. Caleb is a summer intern at Sowers Exchange and a business undergraduate at HKUST Business School.