Chennai: Up until now, whenever Mahendran stepped out to relieve himself, he timed it at an hour when there were likely to be less people around. He constantly looked behind his back to assure himself of privacy, and on rainy days, even watched out for snakes. Around this time next month, this will all change when his settlement in Muttukadu will get a set of six new concrete toilets – thanks to Shanthi Rajasekar and her NGO Childlife.
The sanitation lax was brought to the notice of Rajasekar, whose NGO has been involved in various betterment programmes in the area, particularly for its children studying at the local school attached to the balavadi. “These families have been exposed to the health hazards of open defecation for years. At a time when it’s such a struggle to even find and replenish existing water bodies, the canal and a pond in their area has been infested with human waste. We started work on building these toilets in May, and quickly found donors. The toilets will be ready by the end of this month,” says Rajasekar.
Situated far from the arterial East Coast Road, this settlement with close to 150 families has had no toilets for its male residents. As a result, the next best alternative for the men has been the Buckingham canal, which runs along the settlement and has been incessantly polluted by almost seven generations of people who have been living on its margins. Just recently, the village was in for a shock after one of its kids, who had walked down to the canal to relieve himself, was bitten by a snake.
“These toilets were an urgent necessity. They will help alleviate risk of disease and more importantly, allow us to live with dignity,” says Mahendran.
There’s a panchayat-built toilet for women, close to 15 years old, which is mostly running dry due to the absence of a systemised drainage mechanism. Untreated waste from it is discharged into an open pond, which with its stagnant and contaminated water, poses a serious health hazard to the residents. Learning a lesson or two from its failed model, the septic tank in Childlife’s toilets has been built like a soak pit, wherein waste can disintegrate into the ground, and excess water during rains can flow into the canal through an in-built pipe. While they’re still awaiting electricity to set up a motor, a hand pump has been installed to supply water at all times. A solar panel will also be set up for the lights, says Rajasekar.