In many villages, women are the first to wake up to relieve themselves in the open. Often they make their way to the defecation site while it is still dark. A woman who was out for this purpose was hit by a speeding auto rickshaw that wounded her so badly that she had to take bed rest for a few days.
According to the district coordinator, this was not an isolated instance and it is common for people to slip and get injured particularly during the rainy season. Further, it is not just the women but also children, the elderly and men who suffer from the inconvenience of not having a toilet at home.
Such were the circumstances of Deepaladinne Palem also called DD Palem Gram Panchayat (GP) in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh which is home to 760 families. People who lived near those roads were aware that the stench, contamination and filth on the roadside were caused by open defecation. But in the absence of toilets, the residents had no option but to answer nature’s call on the roadside. Children especially were encouraged to use the roadside, rather than walk the long distance to go outside the village. As for relatives, many did not visit DD Palem as most houses did not have toilets.
When the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) began its campaign in the village, the entire community participated in the efforts to make DD Palem ODF.
Initiatives of several leaders need mention. While the Sarpanch addressed many of the ground level problems before construction actually began, the Panchayat secretary took care of eligibility and documentation issues which the remaining GP team members such as field assistants, ASHA and Anganwadi workers went door to door to motivate families to use and build toilets, over the course of 3-4 months.
Further, Mandal level officials organised funding, bulk supply of construction material and monitored awareness building activities. The link between safe sanitation practices and good health was depicted graphically and posted at prominent places and water availability was assured. Many families were so convinced that they came forward to spend their money to get better quality toilets for their homes.
As many as 51 new toilets were built. However, to ensure usage of them posed yet another challenge; it was difficult to change age-old habits. To make certain that people used their toilets, the GP announced a fine of Rs 500 for those who continued to defecate in the open, and formed teams which used torch lights and whistles to check those who did.
Additionally, the head master of the primary school, T. Seshagiri Rao took it on himself to convey the importance of good sanitation practices such as toilet usage, waste disposal and hand washing to his students who in turn took it to their families. Students took a pledge each day to follow those practices.
The head master tells the tale of a student whose parents built a toilet but would not let their son use it although they used it, saying he was small enough to go out. Their concern was that their septic tank would fill up soon and they would have to spend money to get it cleaned. So with a sense of shame the boy would go out to relieve himself and was often the target of jeering by peers.
When the boy confessed to his head master, the headmaster said that the boy will not be allowed to come to school, if he continued the practice. That’s when his father relented, allowing the boy to use the toilet.
The credit for making DD Palem ODF therefore goes to every member of the community.