My name is Mina Bala Das, and I work as a Community Resource person under National Rural Livelihood Mission in Goalpara District, Assam. My job is to initiate self-help groups (SHGs) and ensure that these platforms are creating livelihood opportunities for the members. Due to a lack of adequate employment opportunities in my area, most of us women are housewives. This is also why I am always on a mission to explore new opportunities to ensure our SHG members have access to livelihood. It was through this work that I got involved in sanitation.”
When I started work in sanitation, I found out that a Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) would be built in my area. I observed that people were protesting against the plant because of the lack of information around an FSTP and how it could positively impact their lives. Just like everyone else, even I was doubtful about the because I had never heard about and FSTP and did not know how human excreta could be managed in one place. However, I was curious to learn more about the project before I took a stand.
When I had to go to the Goalpara Municipal Corporation for work, I overheard a conversation about the controversial FSTP plant between higher-ups in the municipality and members of an NGO. I was keen to understand the issue better and I approached our ‘Baideo’ (Madam) from an NGO for more information. I was amazed to see that she understood the solution so well and also passionately explained the intricate details of the plant and its potential to change the lives of the community and the environment. The officials in the meeting gave compelling examples of women from other states who maintained similar plants and earned livelihoods. These conversations left me convinced that exploring this opportunity is beneficial to us.
I took the initiative and received full training on the importance of Faecal Sludge and Septage Management from the Goalpara Municipal Corporation, UNICEF, and Women Development Centre. The training covered everything from the value chain and operational components of the plant to periodic and daily maintenance activities, sustainable business models, and leadership skills. As a result of this training, my confidence increased, and I started relaying all this information to other women during my SHG meetings. Initially, it was difficult to convince the members that this was an actual job because they were mocking human waste management. I repeatedly highlighted the hazardous effects of untreated wastewater on our health, income and environment. Gradually, some of the SHG members began responding positively, and they became more open to talking.
Today, the SHG members are eager to join the Faecal Sludge Septage Management Plant, and the construction is on track to be completed by March. It is fulfilling to witness their growing interest, and I have faith that this project will offer numerous opportunities to empower women through dignified livelihood opportunities similar to what other state women have successfully achieved. Moreover, it will also have a positive impact on the health and well-being of the entire community.
UNICEF is committed to improving access to clean water, reliable sanitation, and basic hygiene practices in both rural and urban areas, including during emergencies. UNICEF India is part of the National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (NFSSM) Alliance, which is a collaborative body driving the discourse on FSSM in India.