Changing perception of the rural community was the biggest challenge: Shamli DM

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Carved out from Muzaffarnagar in September 2011, the District of Shamli was the first in Uttar Pradesh to be declared open defecation free (ODF).   All the residents of the five blocks, 230 gram panchayats (GPs) and 320 villages of this major centre of sugar and jaggery have access to safe sanitation facilities as of 10th March, 2017.

At the start of the campaign, about 25% of the people defecated in the open.  “The biggest challenge in making the district ODF was in changing the perception of the rural community,” said District Magistrate (DM), Sujeet Kumar.  All people, regardless of age and gender, believed that taking a morning walk to defecate in the open was good for health.

To address the issue, initially, several awareness meetings were conducted.  “Just when we thought we had convinced a certain segment of people to build and use those toilets, those who were yet to be convinced, did their best to dissuade and misguide them,” the DM recalled.

However, far from losing hope, the team persisted in conveying the benefits of using toilets, until they gradually hit home. The district team formed groups who went into the villages and every home as they talked about the ill effects of open defecation and how safe sanitation practices could contribute to health and well being of the whole community.

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The district employed the CLTS (community led total sanitation) approach as a part of their sanitation campaign.  While the pre-triggering exercises included gathering the communities at a common public place to provide basic information on personal hygiene and sanitation; during the actual triggering exercises, they were able to inform and convince people about the effects of open defecation – not only on physical, mental and social aspects but also on the economy of a village.

More often than not, the team members remained in a village for about 5 days at a time.  During this time, monitoring committees were formed comprising men, women and children who engaged in morning and evening follow up.

The turning point in the programme was when the kith and kin of people who continued to defecate in the open, objected to the practice.  “That’s when our programme picked up pace and began to show results,” the District Magistrate said.  In addition, the communities selected facilitators from amongst themselves which enabled them to take complete ownership of the village sanitation programme.

Gradually, all the initial resistance faded as people from all walks of life cooperated even as they adopted a positive attitude.  They pitched in and helped in any way they could. In all, as many as 39,967 toilets were built to ensure 100% toilet coverage.  The efforts of Gram Pradhans, social workers, local leaders, the elite and educated villagers and others in the community who carried forward the mission need special mention.

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Moreover, there was considerable enthusiasm as people participated in pride rallies, particularly those organized in the gram panchayats of Hasanpur and Panjokhera, among others.  Outstanding gram pradhans and CLTS teams were honoured during special events which encouraged them to work harder.  Other activities such as children’s rallies and Nukkad Naatak were well-received.  On World Toilet Day, two blocks of Shamli (Shamli and Thanabhawan) and their 84 Gram Pradhans were felicitated by the District and Commissioner level officers.

“The goal of our team was to make the society healthy and happy and the first stage towards that goal was to make the district ODF.  That is why we adopted the slogan, Sugadh Salony Shamli,” Sujeet Kumar who was instrumental in making Shamli ODF within a year of assuming his role as DM said.

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