Project Sammaan has reached a crossroads of sorts now that all of the requisite approvals for construction are in place and NBCC has been brought on board as the contractor for all facilities in both Bhubaneswar and Cuttack; it is time for the hardware team, led by Quicksand, to scale back their involvement and allow the software team, led by J-PAL, to complete the remaining work necessary prior to opening the facilities in the host communities.
Any regular reader of this blog will know that it has been a long, arduous process getting to this point. Project Sammaan has been an exercise in patience and perseverance, and an undertaking that has taught us a great many things over the course of the past three years. These insights have shed a tremendous amount of light on India’s sanitation crisis, helping us to understand its scale, persistence, and impact on the most at-risk people. It’s fair to say that, had we had these same insights entering into the project at the start of 2012, we would have approached many aspects of it differently. It would be unfair, though, to say that we should have known better at the start, that there was anything more that we could have done that could have helped expedite matters.
The last point is a particularly important one, as it calls into question perception and expectation. For the non-government partners, the project is delayed by years and, in all honesty, there was growing concern that continued delays would make the initiative too costly in terms of expense and commitment of manpower and other resources to continue; for the government partners, it’s viewed as a success story due to the speed in which Sammaan has been implemented; it’s the same coin, but with two very different sides.
The silver lining in all of the challenges that we have faced these long many years is that they are not just ours to bear, but ours to share: our project toolkit will hopefully assist other like-minded organizations in designing their programs and initiatives to take into account our learnings, failures, and course-corrections. Perhaps if this is the case other initiatives will be implemented in an ever more accelerated timeframe, and the communities that need facilities the most will receive them much faster. If that is the case, then everything we have experienced is worthwhile. The beauty of the sanitation sector is it is one that benefits most from collaboration rather than competition.
The team at Quicksand are some of the only stakeholders that have been actively engaged with Project Sammaan on a daily basis since its inception. Given how frustrating some of the challenges have been, one would imagine there would be a certain sense of relief as our role draws to an end. This, sadly, is certainly not the case. Though not a father myself, I imagine this is a scaled-down version of the feeling a parent must have upon seeing their child leave home to forge a life of their own; after years of stewardship, you are forced to step back and hope that you have done enough to ensure a successful future.
Above and beyond our contributions to the project toolkit, we intend on sharing specific learnings from the Sammaan experience. More than just an act of catharsis, it is important that the time we have dedicated over these years be converted into tangible documentation that can be shared before the release of the toolkit in its entirety, which is likely still a few years away given the pace at which the project has moved. As any good explorer, it is vital that we mark our trail so that those that follow behind avoid the same pitfalls and setbacks that we have endured.
Again, Project Sammaan has not been without its challenges, but the rewards, both personally and professionally, have far outweighed these. It calls to mind the quote from American President Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” After investing so much time and energy in the slum communities of both cities and being afforded the great opportunity to engage with people in such a deep and meaningful way, it is with a great sense of pride and optimism that we bid farewell to Sammaan; knowing that the effort we collectively put forth will translate to tens of thousands of people having access to safe, affordable, and sustainable sanitation has made this a worthy endeavor indeed.