Dearth of toilets is a major issue in our country. Marta Vanduzer-Snow is looking to make a difference in the sector. The 35-year-old from America has launched Better Village Better World in India to solve the sanitation woes of our country. The project aims to construct toilets across the villages of Uttar Pradesh.
First visit to India
Recalling her first visit to India, Marta tells SheThePeople.Tv that she came in 2004 and was totally blown away with what she learnt.
“It was an honour and tremendous privilege to learn from some of India’s great minds. Years later, knowing I wanted to develop an idea, I thought India would be the perfect place. I’ve been living here since 2012,” she tells us. Prior to her stay in India, she had been living in New York City for a decade.
She also confesses that she read Amartya Sen’s ‘Development as Freedom’ when she was in her early 20s. It had a great influence on her and since then, she has been thinking about the kind of policies Sen’s thesis demands.
“Four years ago, we surveyed a village in Jagatpur, UP, and asked every home what they want for their homes and their communities and almost everyone answered toilets. That’s how I started working on toilets,” she shares about the commencement of the journey.
“For now, I keep my head down and focused, taking one day and assignment at a time and trying to do the best work possible.”
Giving us an insight into the kind of work she does, she said, “We work in the areas of education, health care, and infrastructure — organic farming, water, power, and transport. I am interested in the ways in which these three areas overlap, their connections.”
She also added that in these last years, in six villages in UP, they have built over 140 evapotranspiration toilets, one of the area’s first permeable roads, a slow sand drinking water filter, solar-powered homes, as well as many other projects.”
Inclination towards social work
Marta finds her work extremely satisfying. “Making quality things that people use daily has been one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. No degree, no book, nothing comes close to what I feel through this service. Through doing,” she shares.
Highs of the journey
“Having a toilet in the home for the first time made a big difference to more than 140 homes, especially noticed among the women and children,” she tells us talking about the highs of her journey.
Strategies to manage difficulties
While the highs compelled her to keep marching forward towards her mission, the lows kept her on her toes. With time, however, she has learnt to tackle the problems by adopting strategies.
“For now, I keep my head down and focused, taking one day and assignment at a time and trying to do the best work possible,” she shares.
Support from other organisations
Marta feels fortunate to have been joined by a lot of people buttressing her cause.
“In 2016, we led two crowdfunding campaigns and raised almost Rs 8 lakh for these projects. We thought crowdfunding would be an ideal platform. A big part of crowdfunding is creating awareness, for individuals and communities to have a vested interest in the creation process. It is the same for this work in the village. The community supported these projects by volunteering their time, lending their land, in many ways,” she elaborates, adding that a lot of companies also lent their support in the form of services.
She uses art, street theatre and graffiti to encourage usage and build awareness about the need for sanitation.
“We never lecture the people we work with. We are almost never telling people what to do,” she says, emphasizing on the fact that listening and dialoguing are pivotal to create lasting change.
In future, she aims to take her work to the state level by collaborating with a lot of other organisations working in the same direction.