It is difficult for most of us to imagine life without such basic facilities as sanitary toilets. For communities living in Kokkal, South India, there is no access to private toilets – at least, there were none until the arrival of one Lincoln volunteer and her team.
Hazel Swan (31), from Lincoln, recently returned from an expedition to India with some staggering statistics in mind and one poignant mission conquered.
Working with Raleigh International, a sustainable development charity inspiring young people to be the agents of change, the trip focused on health awareness and constructing efficient facilities.
During the time Hazel was in India, she co-led and managed a team of 12 young people aged between 18 and 24. The team spent 10 weeks living and working in the rural and tribal community.
Kokkal is a small village housing around 500 Kota people. The tribe have lived in the Niligiri Hills for centuries and are recognised by their traditional clothing and uniques women’s hairstyle.
The people of Kokkal currently openly deficate in the woodlands and forests which surround the village and traditionally women are only able to go to the toilet before 6am and after 6pm.
The traditional routines, intended to preserve women’s dignity, mean that they are unlikely to bump into men but does cause them many health problems.
In addition, women must leave their family homes during the time of menstruation, and live for three days in a ‘Mense House’ on the edge of the village each month.
According to the United Nations, of the world’s seven billion people, only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines – meaning 2.5 billion, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation. In addition, 1.1 billion people still defecate in the open.
Although Hazel and her team were unable to solve the sanitation problem in Kokkal by providing toilets for everyone, their work alongside local partners the Central for Tribal and Rural Development (CTRD) meant they were able to build a new Mense House with toilet facilities for the women.
In order to raise funding for the trip, Hazel held and ‘Indian Night’, complete with a variety of home made curries and a quiz about India, as well as using her creative skills to make and sell baby toys.
Hazel said: “When I first realised there would be no toilet in the village, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’m pretty hardy and, having done some travelling, wasn’t too concerned about it to be honest.
“Upon arrival, we built ourselves a long drop (a hole in the ground to use as a toilet). Although it felt strange at the beginning, the whole team soon got used to it and it fast became our ‘normality’.”
Hazel is no stranger travelling and ‘mucking in’. After graduating from the University of Lincoln in 2004, Hazel has completed many volunteer and charity projects across the globe.
“I would greatly recommend anyone who has the opportunity to do something similar. It is life changing”, she added.
Hazel said: “The people of Kokkal are some of the friendliest and most generous people I have ever met. They have had a massive impact on our lives and many of the experiences I had there will stay with me forever.”
The project in Kokkal struck a cord with Hazel and even led the group to campaign to the local government in a plea for better waste disposal.
“There are some bins in the village which some of the villagers use, and others just throw their waste around the edge of the village or burn it”, Hazel said.
“Some of this is due to lack of education about waste, and some people do it because the government doesn’t empty the bins regularly.”
Sanitation is a human right. Designated by the United Nations, World Toilet Day (November 19) hopes to raise awareness of the daily struggle for dignified sanitation that 2.5 billion people continue to face.
You can apply for Raleigh International expeditions to India, Tanzania and Nicaragua for February 2014 online here.