An Engineer’s Retrospective

Approaching the one-year mark of my involvement with Project Sammaan, I’ve spent a good deal of time lately reflecting on not only this initiative but the sanitation situation in India as a whole as well.

Being a part of this project is in and of itself something I take a lot of pride from. As it’s my first professional venture and one that involves working on a just cause (i.e., to address the serious and severe shortfall of sanitation facilities for urban communities, which, till date, is most neglected in India), my one true hope is that I can do my bit and contribute in a positive manner. It’s been a wonderful experience in meeting amazing people from different domains and backgrounds. As a Civil Engineer, I’ve gained a working, professional knowledge of pre-construction activities like making land approval documents, liaising with Govt. Officials, and official procedures needed for getting administrative approval and technical sanctions for a project. For this I would really, from bottom of my heart, acknowledge Mr Kevin Shane, Project Manager and Mr Ayush Chauhan, Project Director for having faith and confidence in me.

As far as individual accomplishments are concerned, managing to get the Cuttack community toilet tender floated after months and months of setbacks gave me a great sense of satisfaction, and rejuvenated me to work relentlessly for to accomplish the same for the community facilities in Bhubaneswar. My day-to-day activities can become cumbersome and repetitive as the tender process in both cities is time-consuming and requires a great deal of documentation to support what we’re trying to accomplish with Project Sammaan. This can be very frustrating, but knowing that it is for the “greater good” and will help the project progress keeps me motivated. This is particularly true given the nature of Sammaan and its attempts at addressing the dire sanitation situation in India.

Consider the following: India is home to some 638 million people defecating in the open (over 50% of the population); 44% of mothers dispose their children’s faeces in the open, creating a very high risk of microbial contamination (bacteria, viruses, amoeba) of water which causes diarrhoea in children, the number #2 cause of child deaths; Adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to dropping out, as many are reluctant to continue their schooling because toilet facilities are not private, not safe, or simply not available; Women and girls face shame and a loss of personal dignity, as well as have their personal safety put at risk if there is no toilet at home; Women and girls often wait for the night to relieve themselves to avoid being seen by others, leading to urinary tract infections and other physical ailments along with the psychological trauma stemming from this behavior. All of this, and much more, is very shocking and shameful for country with robust economy, but is an undeniable fact of life for hundreds of millions of people here.

“Project Sammaan” is an initiative seeking to enhance the sanitation facilities in urban slum communities, beginning with the twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack in the state Odisha. This project will be a “paradigm shift” not only in terms of infrastructure, but also in the thinking that goes into creating sanitation strategy at the policy level. The goal is to positively change people’s lives and to help eradicate “India’s monument of national shame”. Contributing to such an initiative, despite the many and frequent challenges that are faced on a daily basis, is rewarding both personally and professionally. I look forward to finally seeing the Sammaan facilities open and operational. That will be a tremendous day indeed.

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