Making a difference by taking one step at a time
At Havells, we believe that to tread a thousand miles requires taking one step at a time. As a growing and responsible organization, we are committed to continuously improve our social responsibilities and ensure that sustainability is weaved into every fabric of our existence. A very prominent part of this social environment has been the children. They are the future of our society and schools are their most important agent of change. So, it is important for us to provide them with an environment that enables and encourages them to become the beacon of change. With this strong belief we stemmed our commitment towards the WASH (Water, Health and Hygiene) program that focuses on ensuring overall development of children and their families in rural areas. The vision behind the WASH program is to provide a safe, healthy, and comfortable environment at school where all children can learn, grow, and thrive.
Leveraging our already existing flagship program of mid- day- meal in many schools across Alwar, we conducted a research on our then present base, understand the current situation and identify gaps. It was observed that only 70% of the students used toilets that were available in all schools. Moreover, most of these toilets were clogged with mud and fecal matter. Paucity of water made it unavailable to flush waste or to be used for personal hygiene. This saddening condition made it worse for girls of adolescent age who preferred to be absent during menstruation. Absenteeism was also observed in children who had dysentery. This was our trigger to take a 360 degree approach towards sanitation and initiate our drive in such affected areas of the district.
We started a sanitation drive in 2014 across government schools of Alwar district wherein the company built eco-friendly bio-toilets. These toilets use special bacteria developed by DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organisation) to convert human waste into biogas and water which can be used for gardening or cleaning purpose.
In total, Havells has built over 3500 bio-toilets in 417 government schools across Alwar district of Rajasthan. This initiative of Havells amalgamates perfectly with the ambitious ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ advocated by the Government of India and dovetails with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No-3 & 6.
With our on-ground experience, we realized that the success of bio-toilets is directly related to its proper usage and cleanliness which cannot happen unless students know its importance. Therefore we invested in behavioral change sensitization workshops not only for the children but also for the school teachers who could further educate the larger population about the importance of sanitation, cleanliness, and hygiene.
The program had a well-designed curriculum for classes starting from 1st till 12th, based on their academic levels. The workshops included various interactive activities and competitions. These helped them to understand the concept better, further explain it to their parents and bring a positive change within the community at large.
We realized that building something and giving it to a community is not enough. We sensed that the facilities need to be maintained if we want to make sure that the benefits are long-lasting and are passed on till years together, to positively impact as many lives as possible. There were insufficient funds available at school level for the upkeep of these bio-toilets and hence we decided to match the amount provided by the government. This would ensure an optimum upkeep of these toilets for regular use. A strict vigil was part of the program to ensure proper usage of the funds.
The sanitation drive addressed major hygiene challenges in schools across the affected areas. However, there was yet another common issue that has been negatively impacting adolescent girls in the region. This included high absenteeism amongst them during the menstruation period along with reasons including stigma and myths associated with it. It also affected their health and education.
To help them get out of this, Havells joined hands with ‘Project Baala’, a program in which young rural girls are educated about menstruation in their schools and provided with a kit of 3 eco-friendly sanitary napkins each. These three layered pads can be reused up to a period of 1.5 to 2 years.
As part of a pilot program, the sanitary napkin kit was given to 1165 girls from 3 government schools in the Alwar district. The impact of this program on both girls and the community were then carefully studied. Based on the positive outcome, we are now conducting the similar workshops and distributing kits to 22,000 more girls across 285 schools in the same district. This has allowed us to tackle the pressing issue of menstruation and high absenteeism at the school level and a bigger concern of gender inequality that has been carried along since years.
Working extensively on each initiative through a 360 degree approach towards sanitation, we were able to improve attendance, health and the overall cognitive development of children. Higher participation and attendance can indirectly result in a better future for them. It is another step towards making an impact in their lives that may one day inspire them in turn to make a difference. We at Havells believe that bringing about greater good begins with a small step in that direction. These programs reflect our commitment towards society and sustainable growth as a core principle of doing business.