A walk through the Aminda Rangsagre village in West Garo Hills of Meghalaya and you are bound to come upon some exquisite wood carvings. Made from a single block of wood, often stumps of trees, they are mostly seen outside public toilets and sanitary complexes, drawing appreciation from all passersby.
The wood art is an offering of artist Handam R Marak, who having practiced this craft since he was 8 years old has mastered the skill. His creations include life size human and animal figurines from dead tree trunks or uprooted ones through which his art finds a means of expression.
Currently there are 9 pieces of his art which he has dedicated to the welfare of the society. “His work is a crowd puller and visitors to the village are highly impressed by the wood art. In fact, his work is a matter of pride for us and people are motivated to keep the village clean and tidy,” said Deputy Commissioner, West Garo Hills, Pravin Bakshi. “He is a living proof that if one has a will, he can change the entire village and the region as a whole,” he added.
In most cases, the sanitary complexes cater to visitors although each of them is under the charge of one household which takes care of its maintenance.
According to Bakshi, the idea of adding some form of attraction to a sanitation facility was conceived by the village leaders in a bid to attract more visitors to the village. This has resulted in an increase in cleanliness activities to impress those guests and other users.
Most prominent of the wood carvings is located in the centre of the village; its message urging people to relieve themselves only in sanitary latrines clear, in keeping with Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) campaign.
Recently, the artist was commissioned to create art installations in Nagaland; and on August-15 this year was honoured with the Appreciation Award for Excellence even as he serves as a resource person at various workshops. Marak has also dabbled in stone carving, clay modeling, cane and bamboo works, painting and steel fabrication.
Nestled near the foot hills of Tura peak, the picturesque West Garo Hills is home to 1366 villages, of which 398 have been verified as open defecation free. Plans are in the pipeline for inter-block and inter-district verification of the remaining self-declared villages, Bakshi explained.
The district is keen to meet its ODF target in 2019 and it has a balance of 2730 household toilets to construct as per the baseline survey.
As far as sanitation activities such as awareness building and motivation are concerned, workshops are conducted by a local NGO called Amindagre Area People Welfare Association (AAPWA) which involves village leaders, school authorities, SHGs, church, ASHA, ICDS, etc.
Notably, women of Aminda Rangsagre village have set aside one day in the month to devote to cleaning activity that sees active participation of their children. Bakshi said that more than 50 % of the teachers of lower primary and upper primary are leaders of the cleaning activity and considerable focus is given in schools on good sanitation practices.
Even as West Garo Hills is preparing for total sanitation, the people are keen to make their village a tourist destination and a model heritage village. It is hoped that their efforts to clean and green the district would not only improve their economy but contribute to its all round development.