Meet India’s unique Poop Guy, Swapnil Chaturvedi—the man who left the American dream behind and returned to India to work in his own words, “from IT to S-H-I-T”.
His motivation: to enhance women’s dignity. In Chaturvedi’s own words, “It goes back to me being a father of a girl child, and she used to say that “Papa, the toilet stinks in my school.” And she used to come home every day and run towards the toilet”.
626 million Indians defecate in the open. It is an undeniable fact that the absence of safe toilets adds to the vulnerability of women. A man can unzip anywhere without fear and shame. It is the women, who lack access to private toilets and have to wake up before sunrise or wait for the sky to get dark and walk miles to find the right and safe place to defecate. If not a human issue, toilets in India certainly are a women’s issue.
Chaturvedi is known as the Poop Guy for a reason – he is cleaning toilets for India’s urban poor. In 2011, he launched Samagra Sanitation –- an organization based in Pune that works with existing communal restrooms and incentivizes locals to change their hygiene habits.
The company improves ventilation, accessibility and cleanliness in communal bathrooms. It also turns locations into community centers that offer rewards program for users, among other perks, to inspire people to take advantage of the facility, according to the company’s website.
Samagra, which is a Gates Foundation grantee, dubbed its program the “LooRewards Model.” It has already gotten involved in several slums in Pune, providing services to more than 50,000 people daily. The rewards range from mobile and DTH top-ups, access to facilities such as tuition and dance classes for their children, utility bill payments, groceries to even Patanjali products.
“The franchise who takes responsibility for the toilet makes money from the monthly user fee, and only those who pay for and use the toilets are entitled to avail special savings and incentives created by Samagra and their vendors. This motivates people to pay, although we never deny toilet use to those who do not pay,” says Chaturvedi. Samagra is looking at solar power as an option to operate their mechanized cleaning tools and for cleaning agents that are good for the environment.
His dream of ‘poop to power’ looks like will be a reality one day. After all “We can live without Facebook, we can live without smartphones,” Chaturvedi says. “But we cannot live without relieving ourselves.”
A Loo on the Highway
This one doesn’t even talk of women from under privileged sections of society with no toilets at their homes. Consider girls from even privileged classes travelling long distance in buses. There are numerous instances where these girls have been forced to hold on because there are not adequate loos (or extremely dirty ones) on the highways. And sheer embarrassment and upbringing would not allow them to squat behind bushes.
Not only is the experience uncomfortable bordering on desperation, but it can even lead to serious health issues. The solution is the mobile app PeeProvider that helps you locate a ‘sauchalaya’ when you are desperate to pee. “While toilets will be convenient for everyone, it is obviously of more benefits to girls”, says Moksh Juneja, MarketingHead, Avignyata, a Mumbai based digital agency and creator of Peeprovider.com.
“During a road trip from Bangalore to Mumbai, a friend of mine accompanied by her husband got severely infected due to the use of a dirty and unhygienic toilet falling on their way. And guess what, they had to cancel their plans even before they touched Goa. This incident persuaded me to answer the budding issue of unhygienic loo which led to the inception of PeeProvider – an application that helps you to find the nearest loo which is also rated by the user whether it is well maintained,” says Juneja.
PeeProvider is a mobile application on Apple and Android that help people find toilets within the radius of 1.5 kms. Currently, they have mapped 10,000 toilets in 22 Indian cities and plan to do 15,000 toilets in 30 cities and in highways between these cities . They are crowdsourcing ratings of these toilets.
Incidentally, Juneja mapped toilets for the devotees of Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, Nashik and Trimbakeshwar too. While he is currently looking out for a buyer, hundreds of girls travelling on buses today must be thanking him for the ‘relief’ he has provided.
(Reporting from Global Toilet Conference organized by Toilet Board Coalition with CII)