There was this special girl in Kameshwaram, who was extremely physically challenged and nearly blind. Her parents found it too difficult to raise her and so her grandmother took care of her. The grandmother was one of the recipients of the prize for the FIN toilet beauty contest. This was one of my pet projects to get men in the village to use toilets and also generate user-driven innovations.
Why did grandma get the prize? Well, she got it because she had designed a foot path with different materials so that her blind granddaughter could make her way to the toilet in the backyard more easily. The grandma wanted the toilet especially for this precious girl as she and the family were facing many problems with helping this girl to go to the woods for defecation.
I visited all the prize winners a year after to find out what they had done with the money they won. I looked for the girl but couldn’t find her. “Where is she, grandma?” I asked. Grandma told me, “She’s dead – but she died happily – thanks to you and so I am at peace”. I became very uncomfortable, “how did she die?” Grandma explained, “As the most blessed of the Lords die, in her sleep.” I felt a tiny bit better, “And what what did you do with the prize money?”
Grandma drew in her breath, “You see, all her life because of her near total blindness, she had to wait for people to accompany her to find a secluded place for defecation. She said that if she could only get anklets that jingled loudly she would be able to find her way to those spots alone by learning the sound they make on the surface. But I was very afraid to let her go alone. Now, after building the toilet just behind the house, she finally became independent and she was so happy with it! So I spent the entire prize money to get the biggest and loudest pair of anklets I could find in the market! She loved them – and walked everywhere inside and outside the house with them. And she was right – she recognized the path to the toilet even better, because of the way the anklets clanked differently as she crossed different parts of the path. She smiled even more and she was so happy to get what she wanted all her life – those anklets. What more can I say? All is as God wills. And those anklets, I will not give them to anyone and they will stay with me in my box of souvenirs as long as I live.”
After the conversation, we helped the grandma to empty the compost from the ecological dry toilet we had built for her and we found some seeds for a fragrant flowering bush which we planted nearby in memory of our special girl.
It is real stories like these that make us go on doing what we do – improving access to sanitation, waste management and knowledge for coping with poverty and climate change. Our target communities are the marginalised in India and other developing countries – especially women and girls, who are the most vulnerable. Our living lab for experimenting in the field with solution designs is Kameshwaram. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for helping us make our 2019 dreams for a more climate resilient Kameshwaram and world come true.