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Dear Friends,
All of you have either donated to Friend in Need or heard me talk about it. It is the non-profit I founded to help a tiny Indian fishing village achieve complete sanitation coverage and waste management in 2005 after the Asian tsunami had wrecked huge damage. But I’ve been silent for a long while – but I am back and I invite you all to take a look at my presentation in the Tedx Talks event in Maastricht which explains the ‘how’ of the come-back!

To cut a long story short, since July 2012, Friend in Need or FIN has been transformed into the social enterprise FIN-SWAM. SWAM stands for Sanitation and WAste Management. I am no longer raising funds to transfer to other NGOs to construct toilets. What I have done is to make Friend in Need a local social venture. In other words, I am working to build capacity in a set of residents of the village to build toilets, collect waste and document the process – till we ensure complete sanitation coverage with waste management. And the objective is to make the organization self-sustaining in 5 years so that the residents of the village pay for the services offered by FIN-SWAM and thereby support the livelihood of the FIN staff. Already the villagers are paying for the materials used to construct toilets. A demand for toilets has been created. And a small set of households is already paying for waste collection. The village is cleaner!

Our team now has 9 members. There are 3 masons, 2 men to make to ensure materials for toilet construction and accompany the households, 2 women and 1 man (and a mixed team is a revolution in the village!) to collect waste, and our physically challenged staff maintains our office impeccably clean and answers all the telephone calls politely. They are making a big difference.

I am raising funds to pay the salaries of the team during this incubation period, which I expect to be at least 4-5 years, through my own efforts (writing proposals to agencies for grants & own consultancy) as well as through donations from the public.

Can you please help us by making a donation? There is a simpler way than before – we are collaborating with a crowd funding organization called United Donations, which has been created by academics in Paris from the Grandes Ecoles (or centres of excellence).

• If you register with United Donations, then you can cast as many “points” for the project as you want and one point counts for a donation of 6.60 €, 8.70 US$, or 5.70 £ per month. This will be taken from your bank account.
• Or you can become a guardian angel by agreeing to donate anything from 20€ per year for 3 years. You can make the donation using the paypal button on the website.
• Or you can just make a onetime donation through pay-pal.

We now have a facebook page  – this keeps the readers updated with micro-morsels of information. We are buzzing across social media as it seems the TedxMaastricht event has attracted help from youngsters with very large hearts and wonderful skills and they are going to refurbish the entire digital support of FIN-SWAM!

Thank you for reading and thank you in advance for any donation you can make.

With best wishes,

Dear Friends,

I spent two years repairing many of the installations that we had helped to finance in Kameshwaram. There are no NGOs that repair existing installations  and this explains why there are so many abandoned toilets, solar driers and other abandoned structures in India. There are many NGOs that put in installations but none that maintain them!

By the end of 2011, we still had about 200 toilets to repair and another 450 toilets to build for complete sanitation coverage. Given the scale of this construction, I really needed a new plan. Thus, Friend in Need or FIN launched the social enterprise FIN-SWAM in July 2012. SWAM stands for Sanitation and WAste Management. FIN-SWAM became fully functional recently. It is a social enterprise manned by local s from Kameshwaram and nearby villages and the town of Nagapattinam. We are also collaborating with other social enterprises, Bharathi (India) and United Donations (France) to realize our goals.

We have revamped the website with powerpoint presentations on these new developments. Unfortunately, the French side of the website always lags behind because it takes time to translate the documents into French and put them up. So I would like to thank all our French donors for their patience and tolerance with this delay. As always please feel free to send your comments.

Please do take a look at the following – all the files except the last one take at most 5-10 minutes to scan through:

  • FIN SWAM – details
  • The toilet repair project
  • Friend in Need evolution
  • Collaboration with Bharathi
  • Collaboration with United Donations
  • What happened between Jan 2011 and June 2013 – (big 50 slides)

(Editor’s note: The contents of these files will be incorporated into the new website)

Thanks and Best wishes,
Shyama V. Ramani

Hello Everyone,

First, I want to wish you all a very good rest of the year! If I’m late by three months, it’s really because I have had a very tough semester, which is almost over and so I will be with you every month or more… soon… and to make up… this is a long letter…

My last week’s resolution: I’ve decided to write our toilet project report to you in the form of stories – but which will be true. Why? Well, last week I was in Delhi – for one of my research projects, about which you will read sooner or later… I was returning to my hotel room and there was a crowd on the way and I was curious and there he was, Vikram Seth, my favorite writer (and among the best English language writers from India) reading out from ‘Beastly Tales’. And as the story-poem of the friendship between a cat and a cock wafted through the air and I began to cheer with the others for the cat who after a good cry decided to rescue his dear friend from the fox – I knew that I wanted to write our experiences as stories for this blog which has been on my ‘to do list’ since a very long time. But I’m not Vikram Seth. So again, thank you so much for your faith in me, and letting me write you true stories.

But I’ll write it next time because tonight I have to work on my paper on health outcomes of sanitation – based on Kameshwaram for tomorrow’s presentation at Calcutta University and so I’ve told my story for this time to this 15 year old kid, my friend’s son in whose house I’m today (she’s an architect who’s has been with our project since the beginning… one day her story)… and the kid is going to write out the rest… he is one creative kid – that’s one of his photos on the right…

A true Story by Gaurav Balakrishnan as recounted by Shyama Aunty

Once upon a time, not very long ago, the day after Christmas huge waves roared out of the Indian ocean and nothing was ever the same again… including for this lady (i.e. Shyama aunty) married to this French guy, who was no-where near the Indian ocean, but who decided to adopt one village to get to know it better… then before she knew how exactly it all happened she was trying to help people have a toilet and make the village as clean as any of the cute villages she loves in the French Alps.

Now she found it a challenge to get anyone to clean up or pick up the garbage that was accumulating in the village just about everywhere: “Why Mr.P” she asked her one staff who has been with her since forever, “why do you REFUSE to clean up anything in the village?”

“Madam, I can’t do it – what if someone thinks I’m of the manual scavenging caste… think of the sadness of my wife and my son… really Madam… try to understand…” he replied.

“Then, who’s going to clean up Mr.P? Should we call off the project?”

“No” he said immediately, “I’ll get someone from another village”.

And so he got a guy, whom Shyama Aunty wrote about in her blog in October and who never did the work and so she had to say “bye” to him. But that chap didn’t mind it at all, Shyama Aunty told me and “Mr.P got me another guy– Mr.K ”.

This time she wanted someone who would do the work. So she asked him upfront: “Mr.K – why are you willing to pick up garbage?” and she continued, “Aren’t you scared that you will be mistaken for for someone of the manual scavenging caste?” knowing well she couldn’t recognize any caste herself.

And he replied, very slowly, “No, it doesn’t matter. you see… I mean…” and Shyama Aunty drew in her breath sharply, because she almost falls asleep every time she waits for him to speak, because he takes so long but Mr.K is so very polite that she can’t be impolite and sleep while waiting for him to speak.
In his so very typical manner, slowly, Mr. K began his story.

“Madam”, he said, “I was a bus driver for a Tamil Nadu bus service at the time of the tsunami. Umm… And on the day of the tsunami, I was in a place called Velankanni.”
Aunty thought to herself, ‘A bus driver, and in Velankanni? oh my God – it was hit so badly by the tsunami’

There was a long pause before Mr. K continued with his story, with Aunty almost nodding off. “I had driven throughout the night and we had a long halt at Velankanni and I was taking a nap in my driver’s seat in the bus – when there was this huge noise and commotion. I can’t ever forget it – there was just so much commotion and confusion. So instead of going further I basically spent the day dropping off the passengers to areas of safety. Many were crying because they didn’t know what had happened to their families. I did this… umm… until my shift got over. Throughout the day, all I could think was of my own family. The network connections were down and cell phones were not working at all. My wife and kids were at Karaikal – another town devastated by the tsunami.”

Mr.K stopped, his light brown eyes clearly watery. “I counted the minutes to the end of my end of my shift. Then, when I went to sign my logbook to leave, my boss commanded me, like I was some slave, “No way you can leave, today there is so much business to be done transporting people – you will stay and drive.” I was appalled when Aunty told me this. How could someone be so cruel and inhumane to another human being? But alas, people like that too, exist in this world.

Aunty became excited – “you know what happened here? Mr. K, the mild mannered slow to speak Mr.K, lost his temper and he shouted: “This job is the only source of income for my family, but what’s the use of earning if I can’t even look after them. I am going to find them in Karaikal and that’s it”. Fortunately the senior manager of the company came to his rescue. ”Of course, you should definitely go and look for your family. Come back after confirming their safety”.

Getting quite emotional, Mr.K went on,” If by chance the senior manager hadn’t passed by at that moment, I might have lost my job and if I had stayed back, I would be saving others while not taking care of my family. See… Madam… I’m nothing. I’m nothing in this vast world. There are a thousand people that can replace me. But I, too, am a person. I also have feelings. My boss there didn’t understand that, but you do. You treat me like an equal and I’m really grateful for that. That’s why I will do the job. For you.”

Aunty was moved by these words of his. She said,” Well, thank you. That really does mean a lot to both, me and Friend in Need. I really appreciate it. But let me ask you one thing, why aren’t you still driving the bus? Why did you leave?”

“That, madam, umm… is another story,” said Mr.K.

“When I was a bus driver, one night, a drunken man came into my bus. It was visibly clear that he was inebriated. He was leaning out of the door and singing loudly. I saw there was a danger of him falling out… so I asked my conductor to do something about it. But instead, he started encouraging the drunkard and started singing with him. The man fell out of the bus and got crushed by another vehicle and died. And I got arrested. Not the conductor.”

“Madam… the conductor had some powerful family connections, but I don’t have any and so, in court he said that he had actually told me to stop the bus but I had continued to drive, and there were false witnesses to corroborate his tale. Then I did lose my job. And for the past three years… the past THREE years I have been fighting a court case. Two days of the week I spend there. And I am going to fight for justice Madam… so when Mr.P told me about a job, I came running to take it. I don’t have another source of income and I need to look after my family.”

“So” Aunty finished, “Friend in Need got its second staff who had been rejected by the labour market. Though I didn’t mean it to be this way, we seem to be specializing in giving a second chance to people, who have lost out due to bad luck in addition to probably other factors.” And she beamed.

☺That’s it folks – from me too. These experiences of a simple common man have really touched my heart. I have studied in a good school, stayed in a safe and secure home all my life. I can’t even imagine the kind of trouble Mr.K faced. So, thank you Shyama Aunty for letting me do this. And Mr.K, hats off to you!

This report is not a paper about sanitation, it is a report of what I saw, discussed and understood about sanitation, especially on ECOSAN in Tamil Nadu, during my Civil Service with Antenna Technologies (

This report is the result of the following:

  • Reading several lectures of papers, websites and reports about sanitation in India.
  • Visit to NGOs like FIN (Friend In Need trust) and SCOPE trichy in Kameswaram, their ECOSAN toilets and had discussion with Mrs. Shyama Ramani, Mr. Ganappati and Mr . Paranjothi of above NGOs.
  • Visit to several ECOSAN constructed by Eco Pro in the surroundings of Auroville and a discussion with Lucas Dengel and Mrs Sumathy of Eco Pro.
  • My own experience in Switzerland with 1 mètre cube.

The passion and the patience of those cited persons made some interesting projects and ideas exist. Their desire of sharing their knowledge allows me to write this report. The most common ECOSAN in Tamil Nadu is urine diversion toilet, involving a strict separation of urine, faeces and washing water. ECOSAN taking the form of Urine diversion toilet is definitively the only one sanitation system being built nowadays in Tamil Nadu that is ecologically fully coherent. All others systems are deficient at some levels, especially in high water table and monsoon areas.

Most of Non-ECOSAN/conventional toilet systems under construction nowadays use water, which is becoming increasingly scarce.

All water systems have an impact on the water
table by polluting the wate
r with pathogens and
nutrients. Septic tank, the most common feature on N
on-ECOSAN, is dangerous, as it is very often not
properly constructed and the sludge rare
ly removed (and if done rarely treate
d). It is usually not possible to
check the result of the water trea
tment on long term as most septic
tanks are built in underground.
Open defecation is not a major problem in very remote area where population is scarcely
distributed, but as soon as the population becomes si
gnificant it causes hygienic pr
oblems (Direct contacts
with excreta, flies, etc).
No access to toilets is a gender inequity, as wome
n are usually constrained to wait night time to go
for open defecation.
Thus ECOSAN has many advantages ove
r conventional sanitation systems:
No pollution of the water table. Health improvement.
Less use of water (only washing)
Pathogens under control and treated
No manipulating of fresh excret
a (only dehydrated excretas)
Production of two rich fertilizer
s (dehydrated faeces and pure
urine). A major key for self
sufficiency against the increasing prices of fertil
izer (linked to the dema
nd and price of energy)
N, near Auroville
In spite of all those advantages, promoting ECOSAN
in rural area is a difficult and challenging task.
Many ECOSAN toilets (also standard septic tank or pit
latrine that has been built in the last decades by
Government or NGO’s) are simply not used or us
ed for others purposes. This could be because:
The ECOSAN interface is not user
friendly (3 holes) and
requires habits change. Users have to add
ash (or other organic material)
after using the toilet (faeces).
Most people are afraid and culturally resistant of us
ing and touching excreta and
urine, even if it is
desiccated and sterile. Thus the
use of ECOSAN compost as a ferti
lizer needs a lot of persuasion.
Some people are simply not intere
sted in using toilet and prefer
open defecation (especially men)
There is a lack a competent ma
sons for building good toilet
There can be a lack of appropriation of the toil
et and this might lead to non-maintenance
for long term use
In conclusion, if ECOSAN is the most (eco) logical solu
tion, it also seems to be the most difficult system to
promote. Anyway, the benefits for the environmen
t and for humanity are important, the effort and
successful experiences of pioneers in
this field showed that the goals can be met. In order to succeed,
building ECOSAN should be accompanied by several measures:
Having a real demand from the users.
Taking time to train and educate pe
ople about the benefits of using su
ch a toilet (this also play a
role in creating demand). For examples movies, th
eatrical happening, presenta
tion, discussions, etc.
Involving the users in the construc
tion of the toilet and/or shar
ing the cost of the toilet.
Having a long therm monitoring (at least 2 years,
until the opening of the first faeceschamber).
What could be seemed as a waste of time, is the real key needed to promote this new system, at least for
the beginning.
If those recommendations are not met, the promoter s
hould take time for those
tasks otherwise he would
better use its time and money for anothe
r project as there is a high potential
that this new toilet will feed
the “fast built and not monitored to
ilet” cemetery. Those experiences
also have a negative impact on
ECOSAN future development.
I would strongly recommend Shyama Ramani’s paper:
S.V. Ramani, et al., On the diffus
ion of toilets as bottom of the
pyramid innovation: lessons from
sanitation entrepreneurs, Technol
. Forecast. Soc. Change (2011)
I have visited mainly two kinds of ECOSAN, the one
built by FIN and SCOPE (F
-S) (few yearsago) and
the one built by Eco Pro (EP) (built in 2011). Both are
similar urine diversion systems.The differences are
mainly about masonry and material used motivated by
slightly different idea.While F-S are searching to
build comfortable toilet at the lo
wer price, EP choose to use moree
xpensive material and built more
luxurious toilet, the new models in
cluding a shower.The firs
t type of ECOSAN costs twice less expensive
than the second one. But the difference ofquality and
appearance is very signifi
cant. The cost is thus
ranging from Rs.14,000 to Rs.33,000 fora Urine diversion
toilet, with two faeces
chamber and for the EP
one, a shower included.
After a few years, as a result of
cheap material used, some F-S to
ilets are facing several problems:
Cracks in Roof slab
Ventilator pipes broken or useless because of its shortness
Doors broken
Faeces chambers doors not re-plastered
after opening of the chambers
Roof slab about to break, unattrac
tive aspect Ventilation pipe broken
Faeces chamber doors not replastered
after opening Toilet dirty and unused
The Eco Pro’s toilets as it was recently built ar
e not yet facing any problems, except some smell
found in one and insects found in the faeces chamber in
another. This was the result of a wet environment
in the faeces chamber, mainly because of an insuffici
ent use of ash and washing water or urine might have
been entered the faeces chamber. Moreover the ventila
tor pipes are too short.
This is planned to be
changed soon. Those problems also occurred in some of the F-S toilets.
Smell if it is occurring, always come from the
faeces chamber. It never come from the urine
diversion system and would not
occur if the chamber is dry.
Technical suggestions
What could be improved (some is already partially being changed):
Ventilator pipes should not be less than 4 meters
high (ideally 5 meters), painted in black and
should not have angles. The di
ameter should not be less than
12 cm. Good ventilation would
reduce potential smell and fac
ilitate the drying of faeces.
If space permits, doors should open inside to avoid exposure to rain (as done for EP).

Having a roof larger than the toilet, avoid leaching of the wall (esthetic impacts).

Including a shower seems an interesting idea, as it gives more interest from the users.

Adding a 10cm layer of ash and dry organic material at the bottom of the faeces chamber before starting using the toilet will help absorption of the wetness of the first months’ use.

The back faeces chambers’ door is a problem as most users don’t plaster it after opening of the chambers. Changing this system will unfortunately lead to an increase of costs. One tips for avoiding the above could be a thin cement slab that would close vertical in notches (no hinges) ?

I would be very interested to hear about a single chamber experience with 200 liters style bucket, could be removed out when it is filled up and wait outside (or under the shower for EP) with a cap before being emptied. This solution if culturally possible will lead to an important reduction of the costs which could be used for better building material

As promotion of ECOSAN is facing resistances, I would advise as we are at the beginning of the diffusion of an innovation to build at tractive toilets even if the cost rises and then as a consequence the numbers of toilet built diminish. The impact of deterioration of a too low cost toilet (cost of reparation, decreases of attraction of ECOSAN for users and community) should not be neglected.


Gwennaël Bolomey co-founder of 1 metre cube an eco-toilet company in Geneva, Switzerland –