A letter to UKRI from India


By researchers at the George Institute for Global Health, India

Addressing gender in waste picking communities

Door to door garbage collector in Shimla

May 2019 marked the beginning of our association with waste workers (sanitation workers, and door-to-door garbage collectors) in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Initially, most of our interactions were restricted to men waste workers, who often occupied positions of leadership within their unions, and/or administrative positions within the municipal corporation. Women waste workers were rarely ever visible and continued to remain at the margins. Often, their absence from these discussions was explained away on the basis of their household responsibilities, low credibility, and lack of literacy, education, and awareness.

ARISE has enabled us to address gender deficits and create equitable spaces within the communities, in order to amplify the voices of women waste workers. We are also in the midst of planning training on gender, leadership, and health for the community members.

The ARISE Hub, through sustained funding from UKRI made it possible for us to form enduring relationships with women waste workers, start an open dialogue with them, and better understand their lived realities, paving the way to collaboration for improvements in their living and working conditions. Funding cuts will jeopardise this progress, and worse, may reverse the gains made.

Skill-building on education for waste picking communities

DBRC training

Dalit Bahujan Resource Centre (DBRC) is a civil society organisation working for the socioeconomic and cultural transformation of marginalised communities, including waste pickers. The ARISE TGI team has partnered with DBRC to work for the health and well-being of these communities.

Waste pickers view the education of their children as the principal means of breaking the cycle of poverty and drudgery, and as a pathway for better health and well-being.

The pedagogy and curriculum have not accomplished the goals of education. Nearly 60% of children in grade 5 in government schools, and 40% in private schools cannot read a text of grade 2. Further, they are not conducive to learning by first generation learners: A large proportion drop out of schools.

The ARISE TGI team conducted skill-building sessions for DBRC staff engaged in education activities, on how to create an open and fun learning environment to enhance aptitude for learning in children.

The UKRI funding cuts will adversely affect the capacity-building of DBRC staff to facilitate better learning by children, and thereby the development of the waste picking communities.

Nutrition, health, and well-being of waste picking communities

Children eating

ARISE Hub has partnered with Hasiru Dala (HD), a civil society organisation that works towards the socioeconomic development of waste pickers by advocating for their integration in the municipal solid waste management system.

When the COVID-19 lockdown was eased to facilitate some movement, HD found that the majority of the children, in a settlement of waste pickers, were moderately or severely malnourished. HD, and allied civil society organisations, and ARISE, took the matter up with local authorities and other stakeholders to seek action. The alliance facilitated access to the public distribution system, for subsidised food grains, for families that lacked this access. Further, children, who hitherto had had no access to the pre-school nutrition and child immunisation programme of the government, received assured supplies of food grains and nutritional supplements through the centres delivering this programme. Regular interactions with community members are ongoing to explore the food practices of the communities, and facilitate the availability of culturally appropriate food for the communities, particularly children.

After-school education programmes and therapeutic play sessions for children have been instituted to address the effects of systemic oppression and discrimination on children, and prevent school dropouts. Other determinants of health and well-being that need to be addressed are the provision of safe drinking water and toilets in the settlement. Recovery from undernutrition is a long and intensive process requiring frequent follow-up, community level facilitation for feeding, improving health through participation, and funding to sustain the programme.

UKRI funding cuts will seriously undermine the efforts made so far, and set the community back in its path to better health and well-being.

Building exciting linkages beyond ARISE

Delhi Roundtable Leadership Training for wastepickers

The ARISE India Team participated at the Delhi Roundtable Leadership Training for waste workers in New Delhi, organised in collaboration with the People’s Health Movement, India, and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) on 6 February 2021. Reflections from the three ARISE hub project sites in India were presented.

The leadership training session included insights into the health and well-being of the waste workers, the marginalisation of waste workers despite their centrality to the waste economy, the apathy of the state, and ways in which workers can be community leaders.

The session also included some specific concerns regarding women waste workers and the urgency of gender-sensitisation training in the community.

The ARISE team built a conversation around the livelihood of the waste workers and their immediate health and well-being concerns. Participants articulated certain demands that they would later put forward to government authorities, e.g. regular health check-ups to safeguard them from occupational health issues.

The session drew attention to the differences among waste workers from different cities. E.g. in Bengaluru, workers were able to access affordable, hygienic food from government canteens. These discussions also gave the participants ideas to take back to their community.

The ARISE TGI team, funded by UKRI, has been able to go beyond the project boundaries and engage with communities with shared concerns, maximising the social impact  of the work. UKRI funding cuts will limit experiences and best practices to share, and negatively affect the outreach capacity of the team.