Sunday, 21 December 2014

Innovations in sanitation (The Thumbprint, 22 Dec 2014)

UNICEF activates talk on sanitation

December 22, 2014


Open defecation is a major socio-cultural problem in India. Almost half of the population (about 595 million people) defecates in the open, contributing to severe health complications, especially in children. This is a problem which has caste, class and gender implications; and more than anything else, requires behavioral change. In an attempt to communicate this, as well as to showcase how through minimum resources innovations can provide solutions, the UNICEF organized its Activate Talk on “Innovations to support ending open defecation” on 18 December 2014 at Alliance Fran├žaise, New Delhi. The Talk was moderated by writer and columnist Nalin Mehta and the panelists included Aruna Rajoria from the Government of Assam; Swami Chidanand Saraswati, co-founder of the Global Inter-Faith WASH Alliance; Anshul Tewari, founder of Youth ki Awaaz; and Sonal Kapoor, founder of Protsahan. David Mcloughlin, Deputy Representative, UNICEF India gave the opening remarks.


The Talk began with the screening of a short film on the UNICEF campaign that talks of taking ‘poo’ to the ‘loo’ (watch the video at The ‘poo2loo’ campaign uses quirky, informative and humorous language to connect with young people on social media. It shows ‘poo’ touching everyone and reflects upon the kind of community one lives in. One can read more about this campaign at In the opening remarks, a UNICEF representative emphasized the catastrophic situation that open defecation subjects disadvantaged children to and spoke of UNICEF’s role in seeking to create advocates who can speak against this practice. The next step, he said, is creating partnerships that would bring forth a social movement where everyone will see toilet use as a basic right.

Anshul Tewari, citing examples from Youth Ki Awaaz, exhorted the power of social media platforms in exercising pressure upon the government to translate its promises into reality on ground. Where traditional media generally ignores the youth’s voice, he said, social media can allow the youth to participate in important social debates. And in this regard, he raised the pertinent concern: Are we engaging the youth enough?  

Sonal Kapoor, in her talk, suggested that the approach to tackling social problems is to devise ways whereby the people who are part of the problem become a part of the solution. She spoke of how at Protsahan they work with underprivileged children who have never been to school and make them the ones to create stories and tell stories before their communities as well as across communities. Sonal implored that serious issues need not have serious approaches. That approaches can be fun and innovative. Like how Protsahan uses design, art, digital stories, photography and cinema to foster creative education and sustainable livelihood amongst the underprivileged.

Swami Chindanand Saraswati is perhaps the only holy man who has elevated toilets to as important a status as temples. He spoke of his personal journey, how the sight of men and women easing themselves by the side of roads standing up every time a car passed by caused a shift in him and he began the ‘temple to toilet’ movement. “Let every Guru become a Green Guru,” he exhorted. Applauding such an effort, Nalin Mehta added, “Those who worship the creator need to now take care of creation.” UNICEF provides technical support to this movement and, prior to Swami Chidanand Saraswati’s talk, screened a short film about how Faith leaders have the power to guide followers to live clean, hygienic lives.

Aruna Rajoria spoke of a simple innovation in Assam to encourage children to wash their hands before mid-day meal in schools. They have installed a pipe with about 12-14 hand-washing points thereby turning a mundane school routine to a fun activity as children wash hands as a collective exercise. She said that such an installation in a school costs INR 10,000 and two soaps are donated to the school by each parent. This small habit has spearheaded a behavioral change and the government intends to scale up this operation from 100 schools at present to 10,000 schools in the coming year. Aruna also narrated an interesting story that shows how this exercise can also shape the perspective towards hygiene and sanitation in general. In one village in Assam, a father had almost turned the toilet into a temple because it was the most beautiful and grand building in his compound; and continued with open defecation. The little daughter, who has been a part of the hand-washing programme before mid-day meal in school, had prevented him from doing the same!

It was heartening to see a few school children in the audience besides representatives from various organizations. A few more representatives from the government in the audience would have been desirable considering the successful innovations that were being talked about. They need to be replicated at a wider scale, which can only happen with the support of the government.

The UNICEF Activate Talks are an advocacy tool that coincides with the 25th anniversary year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It upholds the spirit of innovation and includes a series of dynamic events and seminars around the world with experts, innovators and thought-leaders.  

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New telly show on ancient cuisines (Deccan Herald, 21 Dec 2014)

Rare recipes uncovered

Juanita Kakoty, Dec 21, 2014,
Telly Show
original Jock Zonfrillo on 'Nomad Chef'

For those who are interested in ancient cuisines, in harvesting their own ingredients, eating a seasonal diet and cooking traditionally, this month offers a new experience with TLC’s Nomad Chef. Celebrity chef and host Jock Zonfrillo says, “In Nomad Chef, you glimpse into a few of the remotest communities in the world from the comfort of your armchair. These are places not accessible to many tourists. So the journey has been a hands-on experience and exciting.”

Talking of food as his passion, Jock Zonfrillo continues, “I am half-Scottish and half-Italian, and I grew up with rich food memories and traditions. I have always believed food has healing powers and this is the core of my food philosophy.” Jock’s formative years were influenced by his grandfathers. His Scottish grandfather was a beef and arable farmer while his Neapolitan nonno instilled in him a passion for superior-quality ingredients and a love for great-tasting food. 

The best thing about his profession is, “I get to learn a lot.” The show has been enriching because it has helped him discover ancient cuisines and their origin. “I crave to know about the origin of every dish I encounter.” “While shooting for Nomad Chef in Ethiopia, I got to know that people there eat raw cow’s stomach, which is their traditional Christmas Day food,” he recounts, adding, “But the major crux of the show was to learn the technique and native ingredients.”

Reminiscing about his association with the series, Jock Zonfrillo says, “When I got a call for the show, I was reluctant. But when I realised the show is based on my philosophy of food, the offer was hard to reject. There was a lot of research that went into it. We wanted to make a show that was interesting with a remote element added to it. We aimed to bring out a strong food-related survival culture.”

Packing nothing but a knife roll and a ready sense of adventure, Jock embarks on a journey to some of the most remote communities in the world, like Ethiopia, Japan, Australia, Faroe Islands and Vanuatu. Persuading the locals to share their knowledge of food with him, the viwers can watch Jock hunt, forage, harvest and cook with everyone, from the Amazonian Indians to Ethiopian highlanders. He pays homage to the culinary know-how and culture of these communities by reinterpreting the inspiring elements of cooking back at his restaurant in Adelaide.

Jock asserts that “the cuisines displayed on the show differ from each other. With each episode one is amazed by the fact that there are people to this day who consume fare that is made from scratch, use native ingredients and cook in a singular way. All this holds strong cultural significance. Nomad Chef will bring to people the food habits and customs of various countries.”

The show airs every Saturday and Sunday, at 7 pm.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Need for toilet hygiene education in India (The Thumbprint, 16 Dec 2014)

(my piece for The Thumbprint, 16 Dec 2014)

The need for toilet hygiene education

December 16, 2014


By Juanita Kakoty

I fully agree with Nitya Jacob who responds with “But do these figures add up?” to Narendra Modi’s speeches about how many toilets will be in place by 2019. In his article for The Guardian, titled, ‘Chain reaction: India needs hygiene education as well as new toilets’ ( Jacob raises the pertinent point that it is not just building toilets that can ever be the solution in India for better hygiene, but there is an urgent need to tell people how to use toilets and why it is important to use them. And as I see it, although this is a major concern in rural India, urban India is no less.

In 2000, I had visited the Marwar region of Rajasthan as part of a team from Hindu College, Delhi University for an educational trip. We were in our final year of the BA Sociology program and were taken there for a field study of the social system in place. Amongst many things, we observed the prevalence of open defecation in the area. All the villages we went to had households without toilets. We were asked to ease ourselves out in the sand. The women in the villages suggested we follow their norm and do it before sunrise or after sunset. Those ten days, I don’t know how, but I did not crap! And passing urine was kept to about two-three times a day. In fact most of us from the team went about with our bladders bursting! Every time we thought of easing ourselves, we would be overcome by great shame. We were there for only about ten days. And we felt sorry for all those women who lived this shame everyday of their lives.

It’s not just Rajasthan, open defecation is a practice in almost every part of India. One only needs to be on a train early morning to see where most Indians go. Building toilets for them, therefore, is noble. It has been documented quite frequently how villagers cannot afford to build toilets in their homes. They would rather go out. So building toilets for them has been a project for many NGOs, and now the government has made its promises. But on the flip side, it has also been documented how the toilets that are built run into disuse because they become incredibly dirty. Women of the household might continue using these dirty toilets and risk health hazards, while men go back to the practice of open defecation. This means that educating people about the need to and how to keep their toilets clean should be a major programme. And this should involve not just the women who are mostly responsible for sanitation and hygiene issues of a household, but also the men. In villages this is a challenge that must be met because a household consists of several people, over several generations. And toilets often fall into the category of least pressing amongst their existential concerns.

Coming to the issue of keeping toilets clean, personally, even in urban households, I have seen that it is invariably always the women who clean the toilets. Men of the household simply use them and often are in such hurry that they even refuse to flush after they use the toilet! How qualified or educated one is doesn’t matter here. Going by how things are in India, it is important that toilet hygiene occupies a crucial place in all education programmes, be it within families, in schools, or through NGOs and the government. It has to be drilled from early on that toilets should be clean, that dirty toilets mean bad health for life. In the villages of western Uttar Pradesh, men and women have complained to me of stomach ailment because, they claim, ‘Giardia’ live in the waters of this part of the country. Giardiasis is a common waterborne parasitic infection caused by Giardia in testinalis (a single-cell protozoan). This infection can result in diarrhea, cramping and an upset stomach. People become infected by drinking or swimming in contaminated water, coming in contact with the feces of an infected person or a contaminated surface, and Giardiasis occurs most frequently where contaminated feces are out in the open or can spread easily. People can also spread this parasite if they do not wash their hands properly. In western Uttar Pradesh, people are living with the idea that ‘Giardia’ is in their waters and they cannot do anything about it. Sadly, nobody here is talking about toilet hygiene as a measure for prevention.

The author is a member of The Sanitation Scribes
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My short story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018

My short  story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018 Right in the middle of the sprawling Nakhasa Bazaa...