Like many of their neighbours, Laxmi's family left their home in rural Bihar and moved to Delhi for one reason: the chance of a better future.

"We were not able to survive in the village," Laxmi’s father, Ramesh, tells us. "So I decided to go to the city, to earn and take care of my family."

Today, the family of ten share two bedrooms in a house in Safeda Basti. It's just one of Delhi’s 880 illegal settlements, which are home to more than two million of the city's residents.

The basti, which gets its name from the safeda trees that used to grow here, has existed for more than 20 years. But like many other temporary settlements, it's still lacking in essential facilities – including a safe, private place for residents to go to the toilet at night.

Laxmi and her father at home, Safeda Basti, Delhi.
Laxmi and her father at home in Safeda Basti.

Real risks for girls and women

The residents of Safeda Basti are relatively lucky; between 6am and 10pm they have access to a community toilet block.

But the handful of cubicles for men and women barely meet the needs of the 570 households they serve. And with nowhere safe to relieve themselves at night, residents are forced to head for the banks of the river or the isolated slip road beneath the highway.

In these desolate spots, robbery and assault are real risks, especially for girls and women, who try everything to avoid going to the toilet at night – from restricting their food intake to letting their children relieve themselves at home in bags they throw away the next day.

Safeda Basti, Delhi.
Safeda Basti is one of a growing number of illegal settlements in Delhi.

A place to bring friends

Growing up without a toilet has always been the norm for Laxmi. But now, thanks to a project run by WaterAid and our partner organisation, the Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE), her family are contributing to a scheme that will give them access to a household toilet for the very first time.

"I'm happy!" Laxmi says about the installation work that’s just beginning in her home.

"We've never had a household toilet, so I never used to bring my friends over. I was ashamed of taking them to the community toilet." she says.

"They all live in proper houses with individual toilets. But now I can happily bring them here."

Laxmi tutoring at home, Safeda Basti, Delhi.
Laxmi tutors younger children at home, as her mother rests.

Another silver lining

Alongside the new household toilets being built in the community, there’s one other silver lining in Safeda Basti.

Many of the local schools also have water and toilets, and students like Laxmi – who has taken on tutoring to help fund her own classes – know that studying is the best way to improve their chances for the future.

"In my caste, girls are not allowed to work outside the home, so I thought it would be better to use that time and get myself educated," Laxmi explains.

"I want to show society that girls can really do something if they want to. I want to make my parents proud."

How the residents of Safeda Basti cope without a safe place to go to the toilet >