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Protecting and empowering civic workers during COVID-19: In conversation with CDD Society

December 4, 2020

CDD Society is a non-governmental organization in the water and sanitation sector, involved in designing and implementing integrated and decentralized nature-based solutions for the growing water and sanitation management issues across India and South Asia.

The #COVIDActionCollab spoke with Rohini Pradeep (Project Manager, CDD Society), to understand their experience as part of the COVID-19 response so far. 

What have been your primary actions and initiatives around the COVID-19 response?
Our response was around 3 areas – capacity building, research and development and developing technical solutions. In the CAC, we are part of the impact canvas which is piloting sewage testing for early detection of COVID-19 outbreaks in communities and we contributed by helping in collecting samples and jointly writing proposals to Urban local bodies.

Capacity building has been one of our core activities. We conducted training programmes for Pourakarmikas/workers in Bengaluru involved in Solid Waste Management and STP operations –  in collaboration with BWSSB, BBMP and TMCs such as Devanahalli and Nelamangala. We trained Pourakarmikas in safe handling and managing of solid waste, especially biomedical waste – consisting of masks, PPE kits etc – that has piled up in the aftermath of COVID-19 outbreak. Since the virus has been detected in wastewater as well, it was important to inform and train people who directly work with wastewater every day. At the BWSSB STP in Mylasandra, we trained workers on the precautions to be taken during their work. Totally we have trained 250 workers on Covid related SOPs.

We also prepared a general proposal on developing sanitation facilities for low-income settlements, slum areas in the COVID-19 context. 

As we undertook a lot of secondary research, we collated a list of research papers related to COVID-19 and water and sanitation and uploaded it as a ready reference on our website. We got a lot of good responses for it and it was very helpful for people in the sector.  

What did your actions/initiatives lead to?

At our training programmes, we realized that the Pourakarmikas were afraid for their safety and hesitant to go to work. Being in the frontline of COVID-19 response – it was important for them to feel safe, only then they would be able to perform their daily work without fear. After the training, there was a sense of pride in themselves and their jobs, which was heartening to see. The work they do is as important as any other and they deserve to feel so. 

What have been your biggest learnings? Any stories/insights emerged from the field or from your work?

The biggest learning came through our capacity building programmes during which the Pourakarmikas aired their concerns.

There is an assumption that civic workers are not willing to use safety equipment because they are sometimes seen working without them. But we realized that when they are provided with materials/tools which are easy and comfortable to use and address their concerns, they are more than ready to use them on a regular basis. It is a matter of creating awareness and also making sure protective gear is user-friendly, durable and available.

If we are to make using PPE a continuous behaviour – we not only have to ensure materials are available on time – but also ensure that these materials aid them in doing their work better rather than becoming a challenge to manage. 

How did you leverage the COVID Action Collaborative? How do you plan on doing so in the future?

Since joining CAC, we have been exposed to more opportunities in the form of writing joint proposals, being part of groups where information was being freely shared. This has definitely added to our knowledge. There was a lot of learning for us especially from being a part of the sewage testing Impact Canvas. We were able to contribute to the Impact Canvas from a research and field perspective, in preparing the protocols for sewage testing. Interacting with doctors, scientists, microbiologists and people from other disciplines helped us broaden our understanding of different aspects of sanitation. 

Given the positive feedback from our Pourakarmikas/ STP operators training programmes – we have been getting more requests from Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to conduct capacity building programmes for their staff. 
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COVIDActionCollab is not merely an aggregation of partners, but is an aggregation of capacities, through which we have developed key high impact initiatives. We have drawn upon our one year’s experience at CAC and engagement with our large constituency of partners to put together a menu of initiatives for funders/investors to support which will save lives and livelihoods, and enable vulnerable communities to 'bounce forward’. Support these initiatives to build resilient communities