Mahatma Gandhi was an early advocate for safe sanitation for everyone. And this month in India, a traveling carnival began in Maharastra, the state in which Gandhi established an Ashram in Sevagram. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra traveled from Maharastra to Bettiah, Bihar - more than 2000 km across 5 states and 6 cities - to spread and reinforce the message of safe sanitation for everyone.
India has one of the highest rates of open defecation in the world, an estimated over 600 million people practice open defecation every day. Finding new and creative ways to talk about good sanitation and hygiene practices is a continual challenge, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas.
Two organizations, Quicksand and WASH United, have developed the Yatra as an innovative way to get people engaged on good sanitation and hygiene practices. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra (Great WASH Yatra) carnival will travel to five sites across five states in India between October 2 and November 19, World Toilet Day.
Traditionally, a Yatra is a pilgrimage to a religious site -- Quicksand and WASH United are using this model to talk about these often taboo topics in accessible ways. More than 20 interactive games are included in the carnival, including the popular “poop minefield”, where participants have to guide a blindfolded teammate successfully past poop. Another favorite is the handwashing competition where participants learn the difference between washing with soap and washing without, provide an opportunity for both learning and fun. A number of cricket stars have also signed up to be “champions for WASH”. Their images reinforcing these good behavior practices are evident throughout the Yatra grounds.
Just outside of Gwalior, Madya Pradesh, where we visited the Yatra, we had the chance to see more than 10,000 people from surrounding areas participating in the Yatra activities. Colorful tents and lights made the event feel like a true carnival, hundreds of people were lined up to play games and receive prizes (bars of soap), and the large stage featured performances by musicians and a “WASH Idol” competition where participants composed and performed songs about sanitation and hygiene. At the same time, hundreds of local children were participating in schools-based sanitation and hygiene trainings also organized by WASH United and Quicksand – many of these school groups also visited the Yatra as a school activity.
Perhaps most importantly, government officials from national, state, and local levels have participated at each carnival stop, pledging to improve sanitation and hygiene access in their communities and states. Because all of the Yatra games and materials are open-source, individual states or districts could produce similar events locally, providing an easy and affordable way to do outreach and advocacy on sanitation and hygiene in these communities.
To date, more than 100,000 people have visited the Yatra. More than 100 school trainings have been held and over 300 media articles have been written. There is still a lot of work to be done to improve sanitation in India but the poop games with a purpose at the Yatra carnival are making the conversation about increasing access to sanitation and hygiene more fun and accessible. .
Check out the images below from the Yatra and visit the website at http://www.nirmalbharatyatra.org/.