Meghna Sahoo is the President of the Transgender SWIKRUTI Self Help Group (SHG) which has secured livelihoods for numerous members of the transgender community and has aided the efficient execution of sustainable sanitation processes.
Before joining SWIKRUTI, its members depended on begging and sex work to earn a livelihood. They endured harassment and especially painful conditions during the COVID lockdown. Concerned about having a steady source of income and being able to live with dignity, the 17 members joined the SHG, founded in 2018 by Meghna Sahoo.
Meghna came to know that the State has made substantial efforts to include women's SHGs in sanitation work as a source of income and dignity. She was inspired to broaden the horizons of these efforts and proposed to involve transgender SHGs in sanitation duties. She devised a strategy for meeting with the government and, following persistent discussions, the SHG was chosen and hired by the government to run and operate the Basuaghai Fecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP).
This achievement was a turning point for the team members, who thereafter found the Million Dollar Smiles. Not only did Meghna successfully pave the way for transgender inclusivity in the Faecal Sludge and Septage Management space, but through coordination with the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and the Housing and Urban Development Department the SHG members secured capacity and technical resource building for the management of the FSTP. Since July 1, 2022, the Basuaghai FSTP in Bhubaneswar has been operated and managed by the 13-member SWIKRUTI SHG. The trained SHG members ensure seamless execution of FSSM services and create awareness about it in the community and amongst various stakeholders.
Meghna’s innovative action towards inclusivity has led to increased access to safe sanitation and has created a ripple effect in the state of Odisha regarding the livelihood opportunities for transgender communities. Until now, transgender SHGs have been engaged in 7 ULBs (Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Parelakhemundi, Nimapada, Pipili, Tusura, and Jaleswar) for the operation and management of FSTPs. By engaging in this work, the members of Swikruti have not only improved their financial conditions but have also gained respect and acceptance in society as professionals. Meghna has now become a facilitator and sanitation champion who is leading and facilitating all visits and training held in FSTPs toward making this FSTP plant a hub for others to learn from and a model for others to replicate.
The SHG facilitates exposure visits of national and state officials, UN agencies, and other international organizations who come to study the uniqueness of the FSSM model. The impact of these exposure visits is wide-ranging, enabling officials to potentially replicate the revolutionary model in their respective states. The Basughai FSTP plants run smoothly and cater to the needs of both urban and rural areas.