KOLLAM: Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM) has started setting up toilets for the poor in Odisha as part of its social-welfare measures in the state, according to a press release issued here on Thursday.
It said that in the Bhoi Sahi village alone, 20 women had begun building fully-functional toilets in their own homes with the help of the Math. “Our aim is to enable them construct, install and maintain toilets in their own communities,” said a spokesperson of MAM, adding that it is a step from the Math under the spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi for the country, which has set a mission to end open defecation in the country by 2019. The women would learn about the importance of practising proper hygiene for their personal health, thus empowering them to spread awareness and “become ambassadors for change” and “be part of the national mainstream in the development of the country,” he added.
As part of the first phase of the project, women in Bhoi Sahi began building toilets earlier this month. “So far, ten toilets have been constructed; many more are on the way,” the spokesperson said.
Apart from this, Amrita University is offering vocational courses in masonry, plumbing and electrical wiring to the rural women in Odisha. “We want to make the village women financially independent and lead the way to the developmental efforts of the country,” the spokesperson said. Amrita University’s Ammachi Labs is focusing on providing economic and social empowerment to the villagers through computerised vocational education training. The vocational training using technology has benefited more than 4,000 women from rural and tribal areas to date, said a press release.
The lab, based at MAM’s Amritapuri campus, has also developed Life Enrichment Education (LEE) courses to address existing social issues in each community and practical training to ensure that each student achieves a holistic education. The effort is integral to ‘Embracing the World’ - a global network of humanitarian organisations inspired by MAM. Ammachi Labs director R Bhavani said that MAM’s toilet construction endeavour has added to “a feel of better security and dignity” to many women. “They see the short-term rewards of having a toilet while reaping long-term benefits for attaining a skill that they can generate an income for themselves and ensure the health of their families,” she said. “It is our goal for these women that upon completion of the project, they form a women’s cooperative and receive support from one another.” The MAM’s approach is to transform the handicap of lack of basic hygiene into an economic opportunity for people below the poverty line while simultaneously improving public health outcomes for the community at large, according to K Sreeram, one of the field researchers. In Bhoi Sahi, LEE workshops on awareness and hygiene were conducted recently with plans to deliver gender equality, human rights and financial literacy modules to enhance their current understanding. The dream is already coming true, said the release quoting Vishnu Prasad, the Sarpanch of Chattabhar in Odisha. “We have already placed an order with the new plumbers to build 3,000 toilets in the district. We will pay them Rs 10,000 per toilet for their efforts,” he said.“We are gearing up to implement this programme in 101 villages throughout India,” added the MAM spokesperson. Magilata, a student, said women currently travel no less than a kilometre to relieve themselves in the field. “Many of them go there only in the early mornings and late at nights to attain some sort of privacy,” she added. Better hygiene can keep children healthier and in school.
In addition to the lack of privacy and dignity, women are far more vulnerable to the risk of physical and sexual assault. When girls reach puberty, without access to private facilities, attendance and dropout rates increase dramatically.