Over 76% of individuals with reduced mobility struggle to access sanitation facilities, according to a recent survey carried out by Svayam, a leading accessibility organisation that aims to reform infrastructure and transportation to make them accessible for people with reduced mobility.
In 2019, Svayam embarked on a groundbreaking project that spanned across the vast landscape of India, reaching out to 14 states and encompassing 138 districts. The initiation of this ambitious project marked a significant stride in the organisation's commitment to making a positive impact on accessibility and inclusivity on a national scale.
The multifaceted initiative aimed at addressing diverse challenges related to accessibility, with a keen focus on fostering an inclusive environment for individuals with diverse abilities. By extending its reach across 14 states and 138 districts, Svayam demonstrated its dedication to creating a widespread and lasting impact on the lives of people with disabilities.
Over the past four years, through 24,500 self-help groups (SHGs), joint liability groups (JLGs), and other community-based organisations (CBOs), this project has touched the lives of about 1.5 crore individuals (approximately 1% of India’s population) and trained over 1554 local plumbers and masons on accessible toilets.
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While toilets are recognised as a basic necessity, there are still a staggering number of people with reduced mobility, including senior citizens, people with disabilities, pregnant women, kids, etc., who are deprived of this facility.
Recognising this, Svayam conceived the concept of 'accessible toilets' and drove awareness at the grassroots level on the significance of accessible toilets in Indian households. With 69% of people with disabilities (PwD) and 71% of India's senior citizens residing in rural parts of India, Svayam led the project, intending to improve sanitation facilities for the safety, convenience, and dignity of these people.
In India, 22% of people with disabilities earn less than $3000 per month. Indicating that apart from awareness of what accessible toilets entail, there was also a need for awareness of sanitation loans that are provided through microfinance models such as self-help groups (SHGs), joint liability groups (JLGs), and others.
Ms. Sminu Jindal, Founder and Chairperson of Svayam and Managing Director of Jindal SAW Ltd., shares, "At Svayam, we firmly believe that accessibility is an inherent human need and an undeniable right for every individual. Our extensive four-year project has shattered myths that accessibility isn't solely essential for individuals with disabilities; it is necessary for all. Through this project, we've witnessed the willingness of rural communities to invest their savings and even take out loans to fulfil this fundamental need—accessible toilets at home. What's truly remarkable is the staggering 99.0% repayment rate, a testament to the unwavering commitment of borrowers towards enhancing their quality of life."
The impact of the initiative on individuals has been substantial, with over 1,008 families having successfully availed loans amounting to nearly Rs 3 crore to facilitate the construction of accessible toilets in their homes. The project initially commenced in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Odisha.
Encouraged by the impact on the beneficiaries, with the assistance of 14 Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs), the project expanded to an additional nine states, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, and West Bengal.
Further, this project's success prompted Svayam and the NHFDC Foundation to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to expand it to 17 Swalamban Kendras across seven northern states of India. Kicking off this collaboration, the inaugural activity was conducted in Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh, focusing on training plumbers and masons to construct accessible toilets. Concurrently, a village-wide survey is underway by the NHFDC Foundation. Impressively, 70% of the families taking the survey expressed keen interest in obtaining loans to upgrade their toilets.
Mr. Naveen Shah, Chairman and Managing Director, NDFDC, said, “Svayam and the NDFDC Foundation remain committed to promoting accessibility and inclusivity for all individuals, including those with reduced mobility. We have planned to develop a model village in the Kannauj District of Uttar Pradesh, implementing accessible toilets in the households that need them. The response to the survey from the village shows a willingness to adapt to a better lifestyle."