Nora Balboni was awarded with a £300 Individual Grant for Volunteering, which enabled her to spend ten weeks volunteering with Raleigh International in a remote village near Mysore, India. She and the seven other UK volunteers joined seven local Indian volunteers to focus on improving hygiene, sanitation, education and infrastructure in the small village.
Nora and her team spent the first week integrating with the village and doing household surveys to establish the community’s current level of understanding about hygiene and sanitation practices, and to gain an understanding of what the villagers themselves believed was lacking in the village. The two biggest issues were the lack of knowledge about sanitation within the village and the fact that half the households did not have a working toilet.
Her team therefore raised awareness of this issue by organising numerous school sessions, speaking with and setting up women’s self-help groups, and integrating with the village youth through events such as a “fun litter picking day”. Through the local council, villagers in India are entitled to an interest free loan to build a toilet, as well as old age and widow pensions. However, most villagers were unable to access this help, due to illiteracy or having little understanding of how the bureaucracy of the council worked. Nora and the other volunteers therefore worked as the intermediary, helping the villagers to gain access to these services.
In their last four weeks, the Raleigh team focused on creating lasting resources that would improve the livelihood of the villagers and enforce a behavioural change toward sanitation, after their departure. The team painted eight murals on all village water tanks and on the school wall, promoting hand washing, the use of soap, use of bins, recycling of plastic bags, healthy diet, and regular teeth brushing. They also created brochures outlining hand-washing steps and the benefits of using a toilet which they distributed to all households. Finally, they identified three households, which most needed a toilet construction and also repaired broken toilets for various families. Through visits to the local council, Nora and her team also managed to have the street lighting repaired and the water tanks cleaned.
Nora felt that their work has had a lasting, sustainable effect on the village. She commented “At the end of my 10 weeks, I would see children and some ladies washing their hands at their outdoor taps with soap and using our hand washing sequence, groups of boys brushing their teeth in the mornings and evenings by the water tanks, and we got requests from villagers who had not been interested in getting a toilet, to apply for the loan from the council for them.”
She also found that the experience will have a lasting effect on her own life. Nora reflected; “This experience was the most valuable thing I have done. What I learned was that you do not need to speak the same language as someone to work with them effectively, and it is only through this diversity and sharing of knowledge between different cultures, social classes, and backgrounds, that any progress and development in today’s globalising world is possible. Lastly, this experience showed me that I want to work in development as my career, because I see it as my duty coming from a privileged country, to give back the skills I was lucky enough to gain throughout my school and university.”
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