Saturday, 5 August 2017

Changing Lives in Informal Settlements

Sunder Nagri in Delhi is one of the largest resettlement colonies with 1000s of displaced urban residents. When the 50 or so initial households moved to Sunder Nagri, it was desolate and wild. Cut off from government services and infrastructure, residents were forced to wake up at 3:30 am and walk 2 to 3 kilometers to collect water for their cooking and washing needs. Diseases were rampant because of the lack of proper water and sanitation facilities. Many children died from jaundice, malaria and diarrhea and sickness became a part of their lives.

It was in 2009 that MHT began to organize community meetings at Sunder Nagri, through which the residents were educated about their rights to clean water, sanitation and better quality housing, and how they can access various government schemes for water and sanitation. Many of the women members were nervous about travelling alone to distant municipal offices, unsure of how to navigate complicated transport systems and respond to the questions from government officials. In order to solve it effectively, MHT organized a series of training sessions and arranged trips to local government offices, until the women gained the confidence to lead these visits themselves. Additionally, MHT also helped them obtain ration and identification cards, making them eligible for government infrastructure and housing schemes.

Later on, MHT also worked extensively to improve the water and sanitation conditions at Sunder Nagri. Recognizing an acute need for water connections, MHT began to offer loans for underground water pump and individual hand pumps. MHT also tackled the challenge of open defecation through disbursing loans for individual toilets. As a result, residents are now healthier, more productive and confident.

It was the availability of water that changed their lives significantly. One of the community members says, “We can now shower and wash our clothes and dishes whenever we want. We finally have free time. We don’t have to lug heavy buckets anymore or wake up at 3:30 am to fetch water."

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Helping Communities Affected by Ahmedabad Rains

At 5.45 am on the 27th of July, Meenaben woke up to a phone call from a slum settlement in Vrundavan Nagar in Ahmedabad. On the other end was Radhika, one of the beneficiaries of MHT, informing her that the entire slum that includes 205 households got flooded in the heavy rain overnight.

Meenaben, one of the Vikasini members, has been working with MHT for the last 17 years. Having been identified as a strong woman leader, Meenaben helps with MHT's works in 23 slum settlements in Ahmedabad to empower women to develop their habitats and build climate resilience. Since Meenaben has been working with the people of Vrindavan Nagar for around 12 years now, she became the first person for Radhika to call during a time of adversity.

Soon after she received the call, Meenaben visited the community to check their condition. She describes the situation as much worse than previous years. Since the area sits at a lower level than the recently built highway, rainwater from surrounding areas were logged in the slum. As a result, the water had gone inside their households, ruining vegetables and other foods, and people were using buckets to scoop the water out.


After verifying the situation, Meenaben called the Ward Councilor and the control room at Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and requested for help. By noon, a team from AMC had come to Vrundavan Nagar. They pumped the water out and provided the families with food provisions.

Meenaben is glad that she is able to efficiently help the communities she works with. The trainings she received as a beneficiary of MHT continue to help her in making decisions that reap immediate and positive results. She stays in touch with the community to make sure their urgent needs are met.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

MHT is Granted Millennium Alliance Award 2017

Initiatives in promoting sustainable energy consumption among the poor has won MHT the Millennium Alliance Award 2017. A network of Indian institutions that aims to promote innovative ideas to overcome development challenges, Millennium Alliance organizes yearly award ceremonies to honor impactful social enterprises in the country.
MHT receiving the Millennium Alliance Award
At the Round IV Award Ceremony that was held in Delhi this week, MHT was recognized for works in building climate-resilient communities with a focus on urban slums. Many slum dwellings in India are constructed with plastic covers and cement and tin sheets which absorb heat. As a result, these houses create hot and stuffy living conditions and make the inhabitants vulnerable to climate change risks. Moreover, the absence of proper light and ventilation make the families depend significantly on electrical lighting and cooling.
In order to better their living conditions and reduce energy consumption, MHT came up with the solution to
  • educate families on nuances of energy usage such as bill calculation, appliance’s wattage consumption, changes in wiring to reduce energy wastage, and the use of renewable and energy efficient products
  • promote customized green energy technologies such as solar lighting-cooling systems, CFLs, LEDs, stoves and innovative building technologies such as Roof Ventilation and ModRoofs
  • support end-user financing with tailored loans and flexible collection, and
  • provide after sale services
The project will yield a 10% decrease in household expenditure on fuel consumption. Reduction in energy costs will allow poor households to increase their spending on food, health and education. For home-based workers in slums, the improvement in light, ventilation and insulation will also lead to a 4 hours increase in daily working hours. With the grant received from Millennium Alliance, MHT aims to reach 2500 households in Bhopal through this initiative and help climb the energy ladder and use more efficient and sustainable products and services.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Bhumika Following on the Footsteps of Her Grandmother

Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT) aims at improving the habitat conditions of poor women in the informal sector. Since its establishment in 1994, MHT has worked with over 895 slums, reaching over 3,11,450 households. In an effort to bring up a generation of young women leaders with a passion to develop their communities, MHT involves adolescent girls from slum settlements in Ahmedabad to provide families with basic water and sanitation facilities. Bhumika, a 17-year-old, is one of the first adolescent girls to join the program. 

Bhumika was encouraged by her grandmother Jiviben to join MHT. Jiviben, who has been working with MHT for the last 18 years, helped improve the living conditions of around 150 households in her neighborhood. She says that it was her decision to be involved with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and MHT that positively transformed her life and community. She learnt how to access government schemes for community development through MHT meetings and training sessions, and turned her slum, which had no light, water, toilets or pukka housings, into a neat area of colorful houses with tidily paved paths, individual toilets and water connections. Now at the age of 60, Jiviben is proud of the changes that she has brought in her community. She also educated her children, encouraged her daughters-in-law to study and work, and now supports her granddaughter in her involvement with MHT.
Bhumika started working with MHT before 9 months, when the program was initiated with the support of Dasra Giving Circle. She helps MHT with gathering women for meetings and conducting surveys. Since her grandmother has ensured that their community has necessary sanitation facilities, Bhumika took the initiative to study their neighboring localities where people still struggle to access basic necessities. She identified two slums where people defecated in the open and conducted surveys of 53 households. While conducting these surveys, she also educated the families about the Swachh Bharat Mission, a government campaign to keep cities clean and eliminate open defecation.
Bhumika dreams of becoming a teacher and educating her students on sanitation and hygiene practices that she has learned through MHT. A class 11 student, Bhumika is instilling hope for a better future for communities like hers in Ahmedabad. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Women’s Actions towards the Sustainable Development Goals: Sow One Seed and Reap a Hundredfold

15 years ago, Fakira Tank Na Chapra in Ahmedabad was merely a slum with illiterate residents. Today, however, through the proactive and strenuous works of the Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT), the place has transformed into a formal apartment block with empowered women leaders. An Indian NGO that works for the betterment of habitat conditions of poor women living in slums, MHT began their work with Fakira Tank Na Chapra in 2002 by engaging the community through informative meetings about the slum networking project. As a part of the project, some women leaders were identified from the community who were then trained to actively interface with the government to improve their living conditions. In 12 years’ time, these leaders ensured that every family in the community received efficient water and sanitation services, electricity, paved roads, street lighting, and their own apartments. Safe and easier living conditions led to healthy and thoughtful community, where people found more time and opportunities for livelihoods and education.

Fakira Tank Na Chapra is one among 895 slum settlements from 7 Indian states that MHT has worked with thus far. MHT ensures that through its programs on Habitat Development, Climate Change Resilience and Participatory Planning and Governance, people in slum settlements have land rights and decent housing, clean water and sanitation, access to affordable energy, and empowered women leaders.

Through a focus on women led habitat development, MHT contributes significantly towards advancing United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Adopted in 2015, the 17 integrated and interconnected Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address various development issues ranging from ending poverty and hunger to improving health, education and environment, with a strong emphasis on sustainable urbanization.

Since the implementation of the SDGs, MHT helped 562 households to receive access to potable water and 114 households to get electricity, and installed 8,790 toilets and 2,330 sewers. Additionally, MHT also trained 1,825 female construction workers so they could access better work opportunities, counselled 4185 families on effective energy consumption, shared 3,894 energy efficient and renewable energy products with beneficiaries, and directly and indirectly helped 59,549 families to gain access to formal housings.

MHT’s works help realize several of the Sustainable Development Goals. They are SDG5: Gender equality, SDG6: Clean water and sanitation, SDG7: Affordable and clean energy, SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG10: Reduced inequalities, SDG11: Sustainable cities and communities, SDG 13: Climate action and SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals.

Access to a sound habitat makes the lives of poor people (especially women), healthier, easier and safer, enabling them to find time and opportunities for better livelihoods. As a result, these immediate results indirectly contribute to other SDGs such as SDG1: No poverty, SDG2: Zero hunger, SDG3: Good health and well-being and SDG4: Quality education.

MHT’s programs stand as strong examples of how contributing to one of the SDGs indirectly addresses other issues at hand. By focusing on 8 SDGs, MHT is indirectly contributing to 4 more of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Mahila Housing SEWA Trust Selected as a Winner of the Global Resilience Challenge

We are ecstatic to announce that we have been selected as a winning team of the Global Resilience Challenge! Out of nearly 500 applications submitted, the Mahila Housing SEWA Trust team (with 17 partners) was selected as one of eight winning teams. The Global Resilience Challenge is a multi-stage design competition designed to surface transformative resilience solutions to problems that threaten the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable populations in the Sahel, Horn of Africa and South and Southeast Asia.

Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT) Team with 17 partners across South Asia will now receive up to $1 million in funding to implement our proposed solution in a way that can be scaled and adopted by others in the future. The solution MHT proposed, focuses on the 4 most pressing climate-related risks faced by the communities; heat waves, flodding, water scarcity and water and vector borne diseases. The proposed solution model would be community-based, women-led, integrated and partnership based, evidence based and will focus on the innovative communication strategies to promote community-level resilience actions.

"We are extremely happy to be the winners of the challenge. Through this challenge, we are aiming to build community-based climate resilience with a strong focus on women empowerment" said Bijal Brahmbhatt, Director of MHT.

For more information on this exciting announcement, visit

Thursday, 18 June 2015

It is time to turn the tables…..

It is high time to turn the tables and let the people talk. That’s what I realized when Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT) first invited me to talk to some women leaders from slums in Ahmedabad (Gujarat, India) on the issue of Climate Change. A talk which I thought would be quite easy turned out to be a daunting task when I realized I was talking to women who had no idea of Global Warming, Scenario Projections, not even Greenhouse Effect. And yet they were the ones I knew are to be the most affected by the impact of the changing climate. So I did what I knew best, asked the women what they were experiencing about the changing weather conditions. And voilĂ , the women not only knew what was happening, but were in their own ways developing mechanisms to cope with it.  It was very individual specific, often based on traditional knowledge, but it was working for them. This got me thinking, if just experience could help a group of women to fix so many problems, what could they not do if they had the requisite scientific knowledge, capacities and technologies. Can this be a way to develop actionable adaptation plans? To get solutions which are demonstrated on the ground, and which the world of poor will be ready to adopt because it would seem so real, so near to them.

I think the answer definitely is a YES.

BUT, and it’s a big but, how do we actually transfer this scientific knowledge to them. Climate science, is a very technical subject (or maybe we have made it so) and it felt very difficult to transfer the science to the lesser literate or often illiterate women. Again there is the complexity of inter-linkages and inter-connectedness between various issues, which needs to be understood before one takes decisions. A simple solution like a pond- which may seem very environment friendly and helpful in ground water recharge can be actually not so useful if the region is going to have high heat waves and thereby high evaporation rates and worst could be disastrous if the water pathways are highly contaminated especially with sewage and other solid waste as we could end up contaminating the ground water aquifer. This needs multi-disciplinary approach and so we needed a multi-disciplinary team to work together with each other and with the women to help them devise the most useful solutions.

AND, here came another challenge. Sectoral experts are often very possessive about their own subjects and not so open when comes to deviating from their said hypothesis. So it was important to develop a common framework which they could work on. This is easier said than done as we did not know how to develop this “COMMON” framework. That’s where I though the women could take the lead and they did. We exposed the women to the sectoral thinking, provided them with a few participatory tools to go back to their communities and understand the nuances and within a fortnight they were back, talking one-on-one terms with the experts, getting them on track if they deviated, suggesting localized/cheaper versions of technical solutions and working towards a common goal of people’s “LIVELIHOOD”, because that is at stake. As one Meenaben put it, “This is just about explaining to the community that what we should do now so that we can continue to live like this (read maintain this lifestyle) in the coming years also.” Such a simple definition of resilience and now we will be working jointly towards building capacities for the same.

So how did this happen and so soon. Does it provide some lessons for others? It definitely did for me. Firstly, I think it is important to begin work with communities which already have a higher social capital, preferably groups which have worked on governance issues before. They have a perspective and understand the necessary riggings to pull through such a complex problem. It also helped that the group we are dealing with has a previous experience of using GPS and mobile technology in their work. Secondly, women having a larger stake show higher acceptance of tougher decisions. Our women were talking of water meters and carbon tax for vehicles- quite radical considering we are talking of slum communities here. Thirdly, when you talk of adaptation, the solutions are getting designed from a mitigation perspective also. This surprised me, by the way, but it seems easier when you are talking of protecting people to get them to protect the environment. Even though we did not think so the women were talking of bio-diversity and the need to conserve the same in cities. Also, there are many solutions already existing on the ground, a lot of traditional (and even modern) knowledge available which we need to document and invest in for scaling. The communities have a lot to learn from each other and this becomes very fruitful when we get people talking who now are facing opposite climate conditions. So we had women from Jaipur and Ahmedabad (traditionally water scare areas) teaching water management techniques to women from Ranchi (which has high rainfall but is now becoming water scarce) while the latter reciprocated with their traditional knowledge of combating heat stress. And the last but not the least, there was the benefit of developing localized cheap coping mechanisms which can have multiple affects. I would end with this simple solution shared by the women, “Cover your roof with wet paddy husk and enjoy a cooler home. Buy it before the summers and sell it after the first rains and get most of your money back. It is simple, effective and affordable.” There have been many strong technical suggestions too, our sectoral experts now have a lot of work on their hands, customizing these for adoption, but they are very enthusiastic, as they know, this time people will also listen to them, as they are listening to the people.

By Dharmistha Chauhan, Strategic Advisor to Mahila Housing SEWA Trust.  Dharmistha is a development consultant with 15 years of experience working in India for promoting Sustainable Livelihoods of women, farmers and informal sector workers.