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Maharashtra Hosts Nation’s First Workshop Series Focused on ODF Sustainability and Faecal Sludge Management
" Officials overseeing SBM sanitation programming had come together to discuss next steps for a state that has already attained its ODF status "

By Swathi Manchikanti

AURANGABAD, Maharashtra, 05 July 2018-The first-of-its-kind workshop series on open defecation free (ODF) sustainability came to an end this June. Officials overseeing SBM sanitation programming had come together in Aurangabad, Maharashtra to discuss what were next steps for a state that has already attained its ODF status. 
“How are we going to maintain ODF? What is going to be the government’s role? How do we build markets for operations and maintenance?” Sujoy Mojumdar, UNICEF WASH Specialist, posed to the crowd. 
UNICEF, State Water & Sanitation Support Organisation (WSSO),  and,  PriMove, a knowledge resource centre, had gathered everyone to address just those questions, and the need for a sanitation service chain. 
Sanitation experts were engaged in a three-day deliberation on the current status of post-ODF services such as faecal sludge management, or FSM. Over the series of four workshops, a total of 142 District Water and Sanitation Mission experts from all 34 districts were engaged. 
“This is a first in the county,” stated Shalini Prasad, UNICEF C4D Specialist. “What you discuss here will inform the direction for all of us”.  The first day started off with the narrative around Maharashtra’s achievements, in large part thanks to the same individuals attending the workshop. Facilitators from PriMove led participants through conversations on how their contributions supported communities and followed with presentations clearing up misconceptions about the work remaining. B.K. 
Hirwe of the Chandrapur Zilla Panchayat was pleasantly surprised. “In our minds, we had thought that now that the state is ODF, we are done. There is nothing left for us. However, we did not realise that issues of sustainability came after, and this is just the beginning of the journey. FSM is a completely new subject to me, and I now know that we have yet to break the current practices of poor faecal waste collection, disposal, and treatment”. 
Yusuf Kabir, UNICEF WASH Specialist in Maharashtra, explained that this workshop was just the first step of hundreds to come. While national and state ODF Sustainability guidelines have already been published, stakeholders were unclear about what interventions were necessary on the ground to make efficient and safe FSM a reality. 
To him and those from PriMove, who brought with them a draft of an implementable manual in hand, these meetings were where boots hit the ground. Participants who had decades of experience and knowledge could provide feedback on what they perceived to be barriers and opportunities for licensing FSM service providers, catering to the range of toilet models being utilised, and breaking down the taboos equating FSM with ‘undignified’ work. 
Shivaji Uoogle, an entrepreneur who started his own FSM company in Aurangabad, came to the workshop with a vacuum tanker truck to demonstrate how feasible waste collection could be as a profit-making business model. He shared his experiences of accessing private loans to purchase his vehicles, and how he quickly paid them off in a few short years. 
However, he had reservations.  “I am still struggling to hire workers because people do not want to do this job. It is still perceived to be low-class work, even if it is paid well. I hope that UNICEF and the government can raise awareness about this because there are many opportunities here, as long as people are educated about it.” Shivaji expressed his concerns to the Aurangabad District Commissioner, Shri Uday Chaudhari, who later reiterated the state’s commitment to addressing the FSM issues afflicting the state, socially and economically. 
Copies of the draft manual were distributed to all participants, and PriMove facilitator Sachin Hattlage encouraged them to include as much feedback as possible on it, for PriMove to then incorporate with UNICEF’s support and present to WSSO to initiate state-level implementation. 
In attendance was the Director of Maharashtra’s WSSO, Dr. Satish Umrikar, who said of the initiative, “We are breaking many myths and shattering our understanding of what sanitation work entails in just three short days. In Delhi, they are asking ‘what does Maharashtra think?’ It is essential that we remain, leaders, including in this field of FSM.”
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