Habitat Observatory

    Women can bring about a revolution!!!

When Kumari Sahu got married to Prakash Chandra Sahu of Chatrapur, an unemployed villager, she was tortured by her in-laws and husband for dowry. When thrown out of her home, she returned to Bahalpur.

Bahalpur, a small village in Ganjam district comprises of 123 households. The primary occupation is divided into agriculture. For cooking and drinking purpose water is fetched from an open well in the village. Bathing and washing were carried out in open ponds. As a result of poor hygienic practices, most of the villagers suffered from skin infection and water-borne diseases, resulting in loss of work days.
The arrival of Gram Vikas (a leading civil Society Organisation) to Bahalpur was a window of opportunity. They started organising meetings regarding water and sanitation activities. Kumari was convinced that the RHEP (rural health education Programme) could unite people and result in good health for her community. She went to Raulibandha village to see the water and sanitation movement and interacted with the village women regarding the RHEP.

On her return, Kumari called a meeting of the village women and explained the importance of household hygienic practices and piped water supply system. She also helped the Gram Vikas staff in their motivational process, explained the concept of MANTRA and that Gram Vikas would extend all possible help to the village and only through cooperation could the programme be implemented.

A series of meetings were held, rules framed, and a village executive body comprising equal participation of male and female members was constituted. The women were urged to speak in the meetings and express their opinions. It was decided that all the members should be present in the meetings held once in a month, and that one member from each family should participate in the village cleanliness activities. Kumari formed a self help group with 12 other women and opened an account in the local bank which recently awarded this group a loan of Rs 2, 00,000 with Rs 1, 00,000 subsidy. The group has utilized the money in different livelihood activities.

Bahalpur is now regarded as a model village for its cleanliness and hygienic practices. More importantly, villagers consider it their duty to keep the village clean. Every household has a toilet and bathroom with 24 hours water supply. The streets are lit with energy-saving bulbs. A teacher has been appointed by the villagers for the primary school. The water supplied to the households is regularly tested for microbial contamination. Visitors, development professionals from different regions come & learn about the transformation process in the village.

In recognition of the work and efforts by the people, the Government of Orissa has conferred upon Bahalpur the Agrani Gram Puraskar.

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    Smoke-free Stoves: A Boon for Rural Women

Forty-year-old Sona Siddiqi is the most sought after woman in her village of Ramzan Katiar in Pakistan. Siddiqi builds earthenware smokeless stoves for her village. These low-cost elongated mud stoves with two cooking chambers help save precious fuel wood in an area already stripped of trees and protect women from inhaling toxic smoke.

Javed Shah, the man who invented the smokeless stove, came up with the idea of energy-efficient metal stoves for the northern areas of Pakistan in 1985. "Conditions like asthma and eye infections among women and children were phenomenal in that area," he said. "We realised it was due to smoke and soot."

Octogenarian Fatema Hasan recalls that there once was a jungle around her village. "We didn’t have to walk that far. But today, our women have to walk such distances because we cut down trees and did not plant any to replace them," says Hasan. On the average, women here would be spending 15 hours a week collecting wood. They now spend the extra time doing embroidery, chatting with each other. "I love that! We never had time to do that earlier!" exclaims Rozan Nazar.

Siddiqi who is the resident of Union Council Gharo of Thatta district in Sindh province, some 125 kilometres from Karachi, first learnt about the energy-efficient, smokeless stoves through a team from the non-government Indus Development Forum (IDF) that came to their village for a demonstration. That was nine months ago. She has so far constructed 16 stoves, and for every stove she receives 50 Pakistani rupees (58 U.S. cents) from the forum.

Hameed Sabzoi, IDF director says, "Training people, especially women, was part of the project. We succeeded in installing some 890 stoves (in the 15 villages) in Gharo.” The project was sponsored by the small grants programme of the Global Environment Facility of the United Nations Development. Under the one-year project from December 2008 to 2009, IDF has pledged to install 1,000 stoves in 15 villages in Gharo.

Some residents have added further innovations to their stoves. A copper coil connected to the side of the combustion chamber and connected to a barrel of water warms the water so it can be used for bathing especially during winter, says Sabzoi.

The same kind of stove is also being built in a nearby village by Roma Juma, who was using the energy-efficient stove long before the IDF team came to her village. She has warm water available all the time. She now takes orders and builds stoves for her neighbours. She charges 100 rupees (1.17 dollars) for her labour and has so far built about 150 stoves.

But this is a drop in the ocean in a region of 50,000 villages. Thousands remain unaware of the stove and either cut trees or pay 250 rupees (nearly 3 dollars) for 40 kilos of expensive fuel wood per day.

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