It Takes a Village: How One Toilet Becomes 150,000

By Maria Dieter, Communications Assistant, PSI

Today is World Water Day. Take a moment to think about all of the ways you use water: to drink, to brush your teeth, to cook. But what if you couldn’t be sure whether the water in your home was safe to use?

Check out the story below to see how the Supporting Sustainable Sanitation Improvements through Supply-Side Strengthening (3Si) project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to prevent water contamination as a result of open defecation or inadequately managed fecal waste. As we celebrate World Water Day and discuss its theme for 2017, waste water, we also celebrate the 150,000 toilets 3Si has brought to the Indian state of Bihar.

When Sudhir first got married, he and his wife didn’t have a toilet in their home. They used to relieve themselves in the open, and cover with it ash when they were finished.

“I felt guilty that we had to go out in the open. I was worried that my wife would be bitten by a snake, or that there would be flooding from the Ganges during the rainy season,” Sudhir recalls. “I wanted my family to be safe.”

After getting married, Sudhir was looking for a new job. When he heard that PSI was a great and reliable place to work, he joined the local office in Patna as a Sanitation Solution Provider.  SSPs work for the Supporting Sustainable Sanitation Improvements in Bihar through Supply-Side Strengthening or 3Si project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with Unilever.  3Si facilitates the sanitation market in Bihar by enabling both demand and supply of toilets in remote districts of Bihar, where 80% of households lack toilets. The project has contributed to reducing the amount of time that it for a household to to build a toilet at home, simply by repairing the supply chain. In 2012, it took more than three months to build a toilet, but now it takes approximately 12 days.

The SSPs are busy; each day, Sudhir travels 30 kilometers on his bike along a winding and dusty road to start his day in Patna.  First, he meets with 3Si’s “toilet motivators.” In a windowless room lit by flickering tube lights, but filled with bright personalities, the motivators inspire their villages in Bihar to adopt healthy and hygienic behaviors while encouraging them to invest in a toilet in their own home. Then, Sudhir hops on his bike and travels across the bustling and crowded city to check in with his manager at the local toilet entreprise. After this, Sudhir heads out into neighboring villages for his favorite part of the day: spreading the word about 3Si’s toilets, sold through microfinance loans. In India, 600 million people practice open defecation, which contaminates the environment and can lead to water borne illnesses, included cholera and typhoid in addition to diarrheal disease.  Without access to toilets, 1.5 million Indian children die from diarrheal disease each year.

When Sudhir learned about these toilets, he knew he wanted one for his own home. “I realized that we needed to prioritize building a toilet so we’d have a home we could be proud of,” Sudhir said.


Photo: © Population Services International / Photo by: Kiran Thejaswi

When he built the toilet in his home, it was the first in his village. As an SSP, Sudhir was trained to identify a suitable location for the toilet to ensure that the underground pits did not risk contaminating any nearby water sources, and that the pits were appropriately sized to capture the waste.  When Sudhir built the toilet, women in brightly colored saris, men with discerning expressions and curious children came from all over town to see what the toilet was like. And once they saw, they wanted one of their own.

“Now everyone in my village has a toilet.” Sudhir smiles with pride.

It’s with the passion and dedication of SSPs like Sudhir that the 3Si project has now sold over 150,000 toilets.  This project supports the Government’s Swachh Bharat or “Clean India” mission, which aims to build 110 million toilets by 2019, making India an “open defecation free country” and protecting its precious water resources.

Sudhir and his wife have three young children now, ages 2, 3 and 5. They’re all potty trained- using the new toilet, of course.

Photo: © Population Services International / Banner Photo by: Sophia Greenbaum