The ancient city of Ujjain, known as the land of saints with the centuries-old Mahakaleshwar Temple has reclaimed it’s sanctity against evil practices again; this time in the form of obsolescing open defecation as an accepted social norm. A yearlong community-led fight has made the district open defecation free (ODF).
Earlier, the district administration, as a part of the state ODF declaration protocol had conducted a two tier verification process: a village level verification by the Gram Panchayat (GP) team itself; and a JanPad (Block) level verification by block level government functionaries. Thereafter, the culminating tier was a verification exercise by the District itself before finalizing the claim.
At this stage, District Magistrate and Collector, Sanket Bhondke realized the necessity to integrate an independent third party verification mechanism to counter the scope of biased evaluation, while at the same time reinforcing the sustainable sanitation message. This led to a new chapter of youth engagement in the sanitation campaign. Unleashing the power of young minds, Ujjain district secured the support of university level students to conduct the final verification process.
NSS (National Service Scheme), a government body of university level students came out enthusiastically to create a pool of 320 students from technical, non-technical and social sciences backgrounds. The basic criterion for their participation was previous engagement in social development works conducted by NSS.
Such an engagement with students was a huge exercise that needed expertise in planning, coordination and advocacy which was ably carried out by Saswat Nayak at division level and Kavita Upadhyay at district level. Meanwhile, capacity building of verification team members was carried out by UNICEF Madhya Pradesh in consultation with Feedback Foundation.
Students were divided into 100 teams of 3 each and sub-divided into two groups to carry out the exercise in two blocks simultaneously for two consecutive days. It took six straight days (20th -25th March) to complete all six blocks in one go. In the due course, NSS youths successfully verified 100% households, all schools, Anganwadis, community complexes in 45% sampling of GPs (271 GPs out of 609 GPs).
However, the greatest achievement was the successful dissemination efforts of sustainable sanitation messaging along with the primary objective. During the process, each of the teams had to remain in a GP for two days and participate in morning and evening follow up to check on cases of open defecation if any, as well as Ratri Chaupal and conduct meetings with Self-Help Groups (SHGs), school teachers and children. Significantly, an equal number of women participated in the exercise.
Meanwhile, out of remaining 20, ten members operated the control room set up at DC’s office to coordinate the exercise while 10 others fed and analysed the live data coming in from the field into computers. Participation of youths in this nationwide campaign at this magnitude and with so much eagerness was certainly encouraging. On completion of the exercise, the CEO of the District, Sujjan Singh Rawat honoured participants with certification and an honorarium.
The district will shortly carry out a sustainability drive in which 30 bright students from the exercise will assist the district SBM team in conducting various activities such as social drama, promotion of hand washing among school children through games, Ratri Choupal and more in different parts of the district.
In future, NSS is keen to extend student support to the district administration for such noble causes.