Earlier this month, I attended the inaugural ceremony of the “Nandini Mobile Van” at the Safai Vidyalaya (Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI)), Sughad, an organization which is considered a pioneer in the sanitation sector, largely due to the principled and passionate leadership of its founder, Ishwarbhai Patel (affectionately referred to as “Ishwarkaka”).
Before I elaborate further on Nandini, the “Sanitation and Health Van on Wheels,” a short storytelling session about Ishwarkaka’s extraordinary life and work is necessary, as he embodies the spirit of community-driven development. Ishwarkaka has dedicated his life to the cause of sanitation, from cleaning his own toilets (as well as those of others), to building 186,000 latrines throughout Gujarat. Even at a young age, Ishwarkaka was aware of the inequalities borne by caste and socio-economic status, and protested their very existence:
When I was ten years old I entered a school cleanliness competition and took a broom from my father’s house and began to sweep the street. Near the temple I spotted a much better broom and basket and decided to use them. Immediately, the local people starting yelling at me. They claimed it was an untouchables’ and a caste person should not be doing a cleaning job. I realized then something was wrong with our society.
In 1963, Ishwarkaka, with the financing of Gandhiji’s Harijan Sevak Sangh, established the first Sefai Vidyalaya next to the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad (to be followed much later by ESI Sughad). If you were to walk through ESI Sughad, you would see a toilet garden, elaborate sanitation posters, advanced water harvesting and preservation techniques, solar technology, composting pits, and highly advanced biogas units. Currently, the purpose of the Institute is to promote sanitation practices, namely through trainings for policy makers, engineers, sanitary inspectors, and masons from all parts of India
In an attempt to re-connect with their rural grassroots development origins, however, ESI recently launched a new initiative – the Nandini Mobile Van, a sanitation marvel on wheels. This custom-built, professionally designed van is slated to travel through rural Gujarat, stopping at villages along the way in order to build awareness regarding the linkages between sanitation and health. In order to deliver the message in a compelling manner, the van is equipped with media tools such as “visual presentations, songs, plays, and hands-on experiments demonstrating the consequences of ill hygiene and unsanitary habits.” Regardless of the medium used, however, the primary objective is to engage villagers in meaningful dialogue that catalyzes individual and community-based awareness, followed by behavioral change.
In addition to state-of-the art multimedia tools, the van comes equipped with sleeping accommodations and, of course, impeccable bath / toilet facilities in order to allow volunteers and staff members to comfortably travel from village to village.
Want to learn more? Have further questions? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
[Ishwarkaka’s life story passages were retrieved from Arthur Bonner’s, “Averting the Apocalypse: Social Movements in India Today.”]