“Hidden” washing: a toilet key is more than just a key

The first public sanitation facility in the village
The first public sanitation facility in the village

 Before coming to tribal areas in India I was  never aware on what it really means to live without any toilet in a village and without any individual washing location. Having a small intimate space should be one of the most normal things in life. But it is not. 

A life without any sanitation facility in many tribal villages

Many tribal people – sometimes just a few families, sometimes  500 people and more per village – simply have to do all hygiene-related issues outside, toilet, washing, every type of caring about their own body. Somewhere. With Monsun rain or without, day and night, men and women, with and without aggressive elephants, snakes, Mosquitos, behind trees, on fields, at the roadside. When you travel by train in India, you will see many of them. 

The houses or cottages, some just made by wood and leaves have no doors – and no washing facilities inside. A family toilet? Water out of the tap? Not at all. These poor conditions might be known, we see it on TV or in magazines, every day. But are we really capable to understand that billions of people live in that way day by day? Are we aware what it means to an individual life, to the self- understanding of a person, privacy, but also to consequences such as healthcare and health prevention? The “hidden” hygiene, often considered even as dirty and “evil” (during menstruation the women often can not enter the kitchen and similar beliefs) has many aspects…

A new year and a new building

It is the last day of the year. Tomorrow a new year starts, Hindu year. We are happy that the sanitation building here in a village in the Anakati hills has been finished last week. 

A special day
A special day


We are running a social programme, a collaboration among a Corporate company  and a local NGO. We are going to inaugurate the first public sanitation facility, consisting of two toilets and a washing room, all with doors, and water.  Water out of the tap. The tribal people have observed the ongoing work in the last weeks, the set up of the walls, the tank, the desinfection unit. And the wall in front of all. The wall that protects them from the elephants which in this area – attracted by the water- especially during the night would come, attack the habitants (every year in the surroundings some villagers are killed) and destroy the toilets … The local government has contributed, too and allowed to link the sanitation facility to the official big village tank. Toilets without water would not have been used by the people learnings of the past…

The people expect our arrival. Proudly, the show me the new toilets and the water that comes out of the tap. They will arrange in their selfhelpgroups how to keep it clean … and which person in each family will become owner of a key. “The key,” one of the tribal woman says, “that’s our access to feel better, safer, more self-confident. We don’t need to find undisturbed places any more and can wash ourselves now accurately and regularly, without any danger.”

 When I hand them over, they smile. The first step into a better sanitation syStem, more personal freedom and intimacy is done. I think there won’t be a better moment in my life to enjoy more a restroom key, a simple thing, but an entrance for a healthier life. 

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When the elephant comes

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