Sumitra Devi, 35 years old, lives in a small hamlet in Sakra in Muzaffarpur district in Bihar. She lives with her husband, an agricultural labourer, and son as well as her parents-in-law and brother-in-laws family in a small brick house with two rooms. Until earlier this year, the family of nine did not have access to a toilet and would have to walk out to the fields behind their house to relieve themselves.
In this interview Sumitra Devi tells us why her family decided to construct a toilet and what has changed since the family has had access to sanitation.
Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP): Sumitra Devi ji can you tell us why after so many years your family decided to construct a toilet?
Sumitra Devi (SD): Our decision to build a toilet happened after I joined the village water user group responsible for managing a community drinking water scheme. For many years we had faced problems getting clean water and were falling sick from the water available. With AKRSPs help we set up a community drinking water scheme in our village. As well as being able to get clean water, we also learnt from AKRSP how to handle the water and other important lessons in hygiene. As we got to know more about the importance of personal hygiene and its impact on our health during the community meetings we understood the health risks of open defecation. That was when I started to discuss constructing a toilet with my family.
AKRSP: Did you face any obstacles to constructing a toilet and, if so, how did you overcome these?
SD: At first my husband’s family was very against the idea of constructing a toilet and said to me “We’ve managed so long without one why should we invest in this now?” They didn’t understand the health risks of open defecation and were also really against the idea of having a toilet in the house as we have so little space and they were worried that it would pollute the home. After discussing these issues during a community meeting with AKRSP field staff they suggested that my family consider constructing a toilet at the back of our garden. They also told me that we could get a government subsidy which would help us cover the cost of constructing the toilet. With this information I went back to my family and told them this time how we could go about getting a toilet.
AKRSP: It sounds like it was pretty difficult to get your family onboard, why did you continue insisting on having a toilet?
SD: As well as learning about the negative health impacts open defecation has on people’s health, and especially children, the positive feedback I heard from other women I knew in the village who had recently constructed toilets made me certain even more that it would make life easier for my family, especially the women. We were all walking long distances early in the morning or late at night to relieve ourselves and this was taking a lot of time, especially for my mother-in-law who is old and tires out easily.
AKRSP: You now have a toilet, does everyone in your family use it and what change do you think it’s made to all of your lives?
SD: We constructed the toilet just before the monsoons and since then every family member has been using it and commenting on how it has made their lives easier! My mother-in-law often tells us how much happier she is now that she doesn’t have to walk out to relieve herself and has even taken on the responsibility of checking that the toilet is working and clean. My son and husband too tell me that they’re glad we have built a toilet as it’s much more convenient and it feels cleaner to them. For me, I’m so glad that my family has access to clean water and a clean toilet and I’ve noticed that we all feel healthier. Although it’s small our toilet has made a big change to our lives.
*This interview is one among ‘Stories from the field’ in Bihar, contributed by Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) as a part of its Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative. Last April 2015, Aga Khan Development Network agencies, the Aga Khan Foundation, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services and the Aga Khan Health Services launched the AKDN Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative which brings together their expertise in the fields of water, sanitation, community mobilisation, sanitation infrastructure and health to tackle the sanitation challenge in India. The Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative is supporting the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission in 6 states (Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh. Telangana) where 664 villages and 6 urban wards will be reached.