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Gramalaya: Building an enabling ecosystem for sustainable sanitation

Gramalaya: Building an enabling ecosystem for sustainable sanitation

“People’s entitlement and participation in the implementation of development projects is crucial for their continued success.” - Damodaran, Founder and Chairman, Gramalaya

Gramalaya: Building an enabling ecosystem for sustainable sanitation

Poverty is the main cause of poor sanitation”, believes S. Damodaran, founder and chairman of Gramalayathat has been working since 1987 in the Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu state with the aim of ending open defecation. With grant-based support from various different International and Nationalfunders like Arghyam, and WaterAid, Gramalaya has been working extensively with the community to increase household awareness and motivation toinvest in sanitation.

Rural sanitation needs quality toilet products: Very early in their work, Gramalaya realized that sanitation and hygiene awareness needed to go hand in hand with enabling affordable and culturally appropriate solutions for the community. The NGO has evolved over 20 pioneering low-cost individual toilet models – from polypropylene toilet pans that are lighter than regular ceramic models to Ecosan(Compostable dry toilets) toilets in arid areas and biogas-based toilet and water heater combinations - under their ‘SMART’ (Safe and Sustainable, Maintainable, Affordable, Recyclable and Technically Perfect)philosophy. These models have made it feasible to build a quality toilet at INR 10,000-12,000.


Except in the case of severe space constraints where community toilets are built and maintained, Gramalaya has always advocated the construction of individual household toilets that work with an appropriate waste disposal system – in urban areas, toilets are built leveraging the existing underground drainage facilities or other eco-friendly models and the new SMART models are built in the rural areas.


Community ownership and maintenance: “People’s entitlement and participation in the implementation of development projects is crucial for their continued success”, says Mr. Damodaran. These core values are infused in Gramalaya’s attention to participatory construction, upkeep and ownership of toilet infrastructure through formation of rural and urban Community Based Organisations focused exclusively on sanitation and hygienecalled AWASH - Association for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene that are formed in each community and work towards slum or village improvement. AWASH members compriserepresentatives from Youth Groups, Self-help Groups, SHE (Sanitation and Hygiene Education) teams that work closely withGovt. elected representativesacting as advisors. Additionally, a WAVE Federation motivates local communities to form the AWASH in every locality wherever appropriate.


Described as the backbone of Gramalaya, AWASHs are formed, trained and given capacity building through various training programs, exposure visits, hygiene education sessions, leadership training and other interactions by the staff of Gramalaya.


Driving long-term behavioral change: The last mile distance in the journey towards ending open defecation, Gramalaya realized, is in the ‘mind’ - it was imperative to address not only the issue of inadequate sanitation facilities but also to change people’s attitudes towards toilet usage. Gramalaya utilizesthe federations of women’s SHGs they have built over time as a platform for creating behavioral change. Knowing that children could serve as compelling hygiene ambassadors and influence families to observe better practices, the organization also runsawareness programs in schools. In addition,it employs a community-led total sanitation programme involving a transect walk through villages and urban slums, during which hygiene songs are sung and open defecation sites are pointed out to create new social norms around hygiene culture and toilet use among residents of the community.


Gramalaya, in its early years, promoted toilets and water connections using subsidies, which they realized washard to procure and not uniformly available. In 2003, funded by, Gramalaya for the first time introduced a revolving loan model to finance household water connections in villages at a zero percent interest rate with recovery over a 10-month installment period. When 100% of that money was recovered, Gramalayarealised that people are actually willing to pay for water and sanitation services, which is how GUARDIAN was started.