Once the coronavirus-induced lockdown started, emphasising on sanitation became a way of life for Deenadhayalan. A college-goer pursuing Tamil literature, he now makes door-to-door visits to enforce compulsory wearing of masks and washing of hands.
Like Deenadhayalan, over 400 other persons who are family members of sanitation workers have currently taken up the task of curbing the spread of coronavirus and ensuring cleanliness in 23 slum settlements in Trichy. The settlements are areas where largely sanitary workers in Trichy live. One such settlement is Sathyamurthy Nagar where 300 families of sanitation workers, including Deenadhayalan’s, live. It has no coronavirus cases, he says.
The efforts are thanks to the initiative, Youth for Sanitation, started in September 2019 with the guidance of the People Development Initiative (PDI) NGO.
As part of the initiative, 400 volunteers in groups of 20-30 each have adopted their own slum settlements. The youngsters adopted the settlements in September 2019 with the aim to provide improved sanitation facilities in their neighbourhoods and to stop open defecation. Now, the members also work to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Everyday, Deenadhayalan wakes up early in the morning to attend a meeting with 12 other volunteers and a worker from the People Development Initiative. The group discusses day-to-day improvement of sanitation conditions and the flaws that need to be rectified. Based on the discussion, Deenadhayalan and his team zero down on the area for the day and continue to spread awareness in Sathyamurthy Nagar and its neighbouring areas. The team makes three visits a day to the households to check for cleanliness.
“This area has people who are mostly entrusted with the work of sanitising COVID-19 containment areas. But we do not have coronavirus patients in our area due to our continued efforts. We have been sanitising our area with neem and turmeric. You can also see a drastic change among the attitude of people in ensuring cleanliness and the area is much cleaner now,” Deenadhayalan says.
Like Deenadhayalan’s father, scores of men and women in Sathyamurthy Nagar work with the Corporation or private firms as sanitary workers. With the coronavirus outbreak, most of the workers are involved in sanitising hotspot areas or containment zones.
Deenadhayalan says, “If you had visited my area in September, you could have visibly seen piles of garbage strewn before the public community toilet and the sewage line. But within a few months, we have turned this area into a much cleaner place by stopping the public from throwing garbage.”
“Through Youth for Sanitation, we stopped the public from throwing garbage and we made sure to sanitise all the places of Sathyamurthy Nagar. We also cleaned the public toilets. By doing this, we have also reduced open defecation,” he adds.
Velankanni, also of Sathyamurthy Nagar and a member of Youth for Sanitation says, “My husband is a sanitation worker who ensures cleanliness of the city. So, I got the motivation to spread awareness among people to keep the area clean. Many people here lack awareness because most are illiterate. So by educating the people, many things have changed. My husband was initially hesitant to even take bath after work but now everyone in our settlement has learnt the importance of taking baths and washing hands. Everyone has started maintaining cleanliness at home and surroundings.”
In Trichy, as of Monday, 1,004 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of this, 485 people are currently undergoing treatment.
Trichy is known for the sanitation model followed in its urban areas. In 1999, self-help groups (SHGs) were roped in to maintain the cleanliness of the community toilets. Though most toilets are cleaned by SHGs, the areas where sanitary workers reside lacked attention, according to activists.
“The quality of life of these sanitation workers was under question because of which we decided to work on improving the livelihood of the workers,” says Sugantha Priscilla of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS).
The IIHS has a component to support sanitation workers through which they are helping the People Development Initiative to support sanitation workers.
Priscilla says, “Sanitation workers live as clusters in 23 locations in Trichy. Hence, we decided to improve the quality of life for the sanitary workers. We did not plan this for COVID-19 but our purpose was sustainability.”
“During coronavirus, the youngsters became a really good channel for communication. We were able to execute ideas with the help of the volunteers. The children are standing up for their own community members and they know the area better,” she says, adding, “We have also decided to teach the people in these settlements about government schemes since some households do not even have ration cards.”
The PDI have arranged for monetary help and groceries for people residing in the settlements.
The project director of the initiative, Ambalavanan, says, “Our team along with the Youth for Sanitation has been working to extend support for sanitation workers. We have been conducting programs against open defecation, de-addiction camps and now we have arranged for monetary needs and groceries for some of the families identified by the volunteers.”