ana-carolina-rocha.jpgAfter finishing my second year of my bachelor’s degree in International Relations in Brazil, I decided to come to India for a 6-month internship at Amrita University, through the Live-in-Labs™ program. My interest in social work and education made me choose the program as it focuses on addressing challenges in rural India trough an interdisciplinary approach. I participated in the program by collaborating with staff from AMMACHI Labs, a research center at Amrita University.

My project consisted of analyzing how the use of a “nudge” is effective in India´s rural reality. “Nudge” is a term used to describe a modification in the environment that causes a behaviour change in people without engaging in any interpersonal communication. Therefore, we introduced nudges in the villages by making some physical change and observed if some habits actually changed among villagers. We focused this project in two different areas of sanitation:  usage of toilets and water safety. We made one village visit for each one of the focus areas.

For the first visit, we went to a village in Bihar, called Ratanpur. This is one of the poorest villages with which AMMACHI Labs works. Here the government gives little to no support and the community is socially marginalized due to the caste system.

For this visit, we focused on the usage of toilets where the village had two sets of community toilets recently built by AMMACHI Labs. Each toilet area had two and four latrines each, built for 25 and 55 people respectively.  Adopting the “nudge” concept, the intention of the project was to make the toilets more similar to the environment of the field where they usually relieve themselves. This would lead them to an unconscious choice of using the latrines instead of the open field. Therefore, we made use of the first nudge: painting bushes, flowers and butterflies on the walls of the toilets. The second nudge was a pathway with footprints on it, between the road that leads to the field and the toilets. We nudged only the first set of toilets, after that we conducted observations of the behaviour of the villagers from both nudged and non-nudged toilets.

ana-carolina-rocha-01.jpgFor short-term observations, it was not possible to obtain proper data and conclusions. However, the results of longer observations – 3 months after the implementation- showed that the number of villagers that use the nudged toilet was actually higher compared to the non-nudged. Still, longer observations are needed to obtain precise results.

We learned many lessons after the first nudge experience, and we saw that using the nudge just as a “physical change” was not enough with villagers. Some of the basic sanitation concepts are not known to them, thereby decreasing the effectiveness of the nudge. As a result of that, we adapted our project for the second village visit. This time we would not only make physical changes but also engage in interpersonal communication activities such as conducting awareness workshops.

The second trip was to Tamil Nadu to a village called Muruganpatty. Here, villagers live with continuous support from the government. In Muruganpatty, we focused on water safety including the use and storage of water. After observing their habits regarding water usage and storage, we came up with a nudge idea and developed awareness classes on water safety.

ana-carolina-rocha-02.jpgWe conducted classes for both women and children and introduced new and safer options for water containers. For the nudge, we introduced colourful ribbons to separate the water containers for every house (e.g. cleaning, cooking and drinking).

In the end we conducted a women-to-women teaching class where the women who attended the workshops taught others about what they learned. The results were very satisfactory, the women adapted well to all the changes implemented and proved to learn quickly.

Even with unpredicted challenges and learning from previous experiences, the project was very successful in the end, and I believe it can be adopted in other rural communities.

I intend on coming back to India in the near future and do a follow up on Muruganpatty´s improvements. From this project, we learned that the simple concept of “nudging” is not enough in a complex reality such as rural India. We need to adapt, to teach, and more importantly to include villagers in the process of change.

SERVICE YEARS: 2014 & 2015

In the summer of 2015, I returned to Kerala, India where I was invited to continue my work with  AMMACHI Labs via the Live-in-LabsTM program. I began my work last summer by establishing a foundation for a ceramics program and providing fundamental knowledge needed to help start a ceramic handicrafts cooperative among a group of women in the village of Mananthavady. 

This year, my project started off with a two-week workshop. The first half of the workshop built upon the techniques that the women were already familiar with in order to create more complex forms with a focus on product development and quality of craftsmanship.  The women developed items that could be sold in the local marketplace and, eventually, internationally. As they continued to hone their skills, they were able to pick up on the subtle qualities that make a ceramic product good.

The second half of the workshop consisted of kiln building, firing the work, and problem solving in marketing. The kiln, which is the oven we bake the clay in, was based off of a design that was created at the institution where I am currently pursuing my graduate studies, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The size, simplicity of design, and firing time for this particular kiln was perfect for the women of this village. The size would allow them to fire many items of the scale they were making within a time frame that would not keep them from their homes for too long. The design of the kiln was also simple enough to be built in just three days, and since the walls were made of a single layer of bricks, future repairs would be easy to make. 

I was pleasantly surprised at how interested the women were in making the kiln and found myself only directing the construction. The women mixed the cement and laid the bricks themselves. There was also a group that drew out the kiln plans layer by layer so they would have the anatomy of the kiln documented for future use. Next, I showed the women a firing chart and explained how we would determine the temperature by the color of the heat that would be building up in the belly of the kiln. They did their first firing impressively well. Since many of the women cook with wood in their homes, this project related back to knowledge they already had which could now be applied to a new skill.

After the kiln was built and the work was done, we talked about surface treatments and marketing. Since the women were not making items for the consumption of food, they had the option of either leaving the forms in red terra cotta color or painting the exteriors with acrylic paint. Their biggest challenge, however, was to market their items to the right audience to get the money they deserved for their products. Therefore, we discussed ways of branding their group, documenting their process and products, and how they could utilize the internet to market their work as some of the women have access to computers. By the end of the workshop, the women created a group page for their cooperative known as Amrita’s Mother’s Touch. I look forward to seeing how their projects develop and advance in the future.