TIRUCHY: 30 years ago, S Damodaran witnessed an event at Maruthur, which shook him. A woman had gone to defecate in the open, leaving her two children a few metres away. However, a speeding bus knocked them down. One of the major reasons for this tragedy was the lack of toilets. It was then Damodaran decided to ensure that no woman ever lost her children owing to such a reason, and he made this his life’s mission.
The 59-year-old founded Gramalaya back in 1987, and has ever since been working to ensure the supply of water, sanitation facilities, menstrual hygiene and nutrition to villagers. He has been awarded Padma Shri for his efforts towards building toilets and providing drinking water in several villages across South India. Gramalaya, which began with three members, now has 85.
“After finishing M.Com, I initially thought about starting Gramalaya as a way to improve economy. However, as I conducted surveys in villages, I noticed that the biggest issue was drinking water and diseases owing to open defecation. So, we started by providing drinking water and improving sanitation,” says Damodaran.
Gramalaya developed the first open-defecation free village of Thandavampatti in Tiruchy in 2003. It is the first such village in the country.
“We worked towards making 600 villages and 200 slums open-defecation free across all States in south India. We have built more than six lakh toilets and more than 500 toilets in schools. We have taught menstrual hygiene to more than two lakh schoolchildren,” says Damodaran.
Hailing from a family of sculptors, Damodaran was the first graduate in the family.
Gramalaya established the Harpic World Toilet College in Tiruchy in 2021, which teaches sanitation workers how to improve their lives and handle waste safely.