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/ zoemhamilton

Jagriti Yatra Day 8: Gram Vikas (and Shit)

“Our trees, which we were so proud of, are down, but our spirits are not!” started Joe. We were in rural Orissa on  New Year’s Eve meeting with Joe, the director of Gram Vikas. Joe, originally from Kerala, had come to Orissa in 1971 after another cyclone has devastated the area. He came with a group from his University but after the other students moved on, Joe stayed on to work on water and sanitation issues in the area. “Thirty five percent of the population in the area is indigenous, exploited and neglected,” Joe told the crowd. He had conducted research in the area to find their greatest problem and discovered that the number one issue was a loss of health and that 50% of all health problems were due to water borne illnesses. Water is often contaminated by the improper disposal of human waste. Even one single household failing to use proper toilets can contaminate the water of an entire village. Joe started with the government. In order to achieve their goal they needed: 24-hour water supply, elevated water reservoirs, and water on tap. In 1992 they finally succeeded with the government and a new policy was enacted. The next challenge lies in behavioral and cultural change. “People shit all over the place,” Joe delicately explained. But to date Joe has reached 1043 villages with toilets, bathing rooms, and 24-hour water supply. In each of these villages, 100% of village residents use proper sanitation practices. Toilets give dignity to women who previously had to wake early and wait until late to relieve themselves. When we visited the villages later that day we noticed that the toilet was labeled “house of dignity.” Joe has truly affected these villages that he has adopted so far from his home and his villages were a beautiful stop on our long journey.