We join our hands to work and worship. Richly calloused hands working tirelessly to make ends meet. This sacred land that we occupy consists of a million mouths to feed, and a million hands to come out clean. As we are navigating through these difficult times, it is becoming more evident and more apparent how unequal our worlds have become when it comes to accessibility.
They say: everyone must follow the rules to control the spread of the virus! While we preach the need to follow the basic rules of sanitation and hygiene, we do not stop to think about those who are vulnerable and will struggle the most to achieve these goals.
Think about the busy, bustling markets of India, think about those narrow lanes with hundreds of autorickshaw wallahs, redi wallahs, and a thousand other workers who work relentlessly, risking their lives to provide food for their families and the nation.
The question we must ask is — do they have the means to keep themselves safe from the deadly effects of Covid-19? Health organisations across the world are promoting the importance of washing hands as the most effective preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus. Unfortunately, thousands of street vendors in India do not have proper access to handwashing facilities at their place of work.
Clean Hands Initiative (CHI) is a non-profit social venture, led by young changemakers from Delhi NCR, which aims to support India’s workers. CHI develops viable solutions for safe and sustainable livelihoods.
Their vision is to improve the street market experience for both customers and the vendors by installing accessible public handwash facilities. They want to protect the lives and livelihoods of the workers who form the backbone of India’s supply chains and empower them to remain safe and healthy.
21-year-old Suhasini Vira founded the initiative after she spent two years as a Laidlaw Scholar researching and interviewing street vendors and informal workers in outdoor markets. She heard stories of hardship, hope and resilience. One of the biggest challenges faced by such workers is the lack of basic amenities, such as handwash facilities, at their place of work.
The workers that Suhasini spoke to said that they often had to beg nearby offices for water or walk long distances to fetch water. This is particularly problematic for women, who face harassment or violence on their long journeys to collect buckets of water. The lack of handwash facilities becomes even more problematic during the pandemic, given that these workers work in crowded markets and interact with thousands of customers a day.
Without proper provisions, the lives and livelihoods of these workers are at risk. She started CHI with to address this challenge. The initiative is now supported by four committed volunteers and is installing 11 publicly accessible handwash stations across Gurgaon.
The handwash stations comprise an easily refillable water tank (500 litres) mounted on a stand with sinks and 9-litre soap dispensers on the sides. Both the tap and soap dispensers are operated using a foot pedal, thereby making the unit ‘handsfree’. The model is very economical as it can be used to wash more than 500 hands without requiring refilling.
They have piloted their units and have introduced measures to ensure that they are secure and easy to use and maintain. Each handwash station has been anchored to the ground, and the liquid soap dispenser is bolted on to prevent theft.
Water is automatically refilled via the main water supply, and wastewater is emptied into a proper drainage point. They are continually learning from experience and refining their units. For instance, they recently introduced stoppers to reduce pressure on the taps and improve the foot pedal system.
CHI has partnered with Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch (GNEM), a citizens platform that works towards a more inclusive India, for implementation.
GNEM has been an invaluable support in visiting sites to identify locations that would benefit from the installation of these handwash stations, coordinating with market associations and local stakeholders, and facilitating the installation process.
A lot of care and effort goes into researching areas, talking to local communities, and finding the perfect spot for installation. Through community engagement, CHI wants to ensure that the people in the areas where the units are installed to take ownership and pride in improving sanitation facilities and saving lives.
The first three units were installed in Sadar Bazaar, which has a daily footfall in thousands and is the workplace of hundreds of vendors and redi-wallas. There must be proper facilities for the vendors and visitors to keep themselves safe and healthy by washing their hands periodically.
One of the units is located close to the sabzi mandi entrance, which has a public toilet but no handwashing facilities. CHI’s handwash station here enables people to wash their hands as they enter the market or after they use the public toilet.
Another unit is located near a Gurudwara inside Sadar Bazaar. It has been used frequently by workers, visitors as well as needy people going to the Gurudwara for langar.
The third unit is located outside a bank at the heart of Sadar Bazaar, where people flock from all the directions.
Besides the three Sadar Bazaar units, CHI has raised funds for and the identified locations of eight other installations in Gurgaon for the pilot. These include other sabzi mandis, street vending zones, and wholesale markets as well as public hospitals, schools, and places of worship.
While they began their journey with street vendors in Gurgaon, they soon realised the widespread need for such an intervention. As they were installing the first units, people told them stories about the lack of sanitation facilities in their areas and requested help.
While they feel that it is saddening to hear how prevalent the lack of handwash facilities is but encouraging to know that they could do something to help, they are looking into all these areas to install the remaining units and for when they scale up.
Also, the need for accessible hand wash facilities extends beyond the borders of Gurgaon. So, they are also assisting local organisations all over the country in setting up their own Clean Hands Chapters.
They help individuals or organisations who want to implement the CHI model in their areas by providing resources such as location selection guides, design insights, and advice based on their learnings. They work closely with them and guide them through the design and implementation process.
Clean Hands Initiative is looking forward to growing and reaching more people as they expand. They want to ensure that all the workers, their families, and their communities remain healthy. Access to handwash facilities is a fundamental human right, and this small yet powerful initiative recognises this.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s vision can only be achieved if we all practice and promote hand hygiene religiously, especially at a time like this. Therefore, do your part.
Remember the 3E’s—engage with the mission, empower those around you to practice hand hygiene, and encourage everyone to partake in this vision to build India a safe place for our workers.
Clean Hands Initiative wants to help as many people as they can access proper handwashing facilities. To achieve their goals, they need your help!
If you would like to donate, volunteer or partner, contact CHI at firstname.lastname@example.org. To know more about the initiative, visit www.cleanhandsinitiative.org.
This article is written by Diksha Awasthi and Suhasini Vira.