The district administration of Kabirdham in Chhattisgarh came up with a winning strategy: to work through children to win parents over.
On 15th July, 2016, as many as 1.38 lakh students from 1738 schools participated in a letter writing exercise – some in English, some in Hindi and a few even in Chhattisgarhi. They wrote to their parents, appealing to them to build a toilet at their home and every child in the age group of 7-17 years participated from the entire district. That evening, each of the students entered their homes with a firm resolve of seeking blessings before presenting the letter and touched their parents’ feet.
The health benefits of having a toilet at home were mentioned in the letter. Further, when children got to use toilets at school, they reasoned that their home too should have such a facility, particularly to protect their dignity.
The result was better than anticipated. “The next morning, every child went back to school with a date of commitment, a deadline by which their homes will have toilets,” said CEO, Zila Panchayat, Sarveshwar Bhure, with a sense of accomplishment.
It was certainly a proud moment for the administration which is now regularly following up. “Yes, construction of toilets has begun and the children are seeing that it happens,” he added.
A few parents questioned the need for toilets and a few wanted the incentive before they commenced any work. To address this, teachers who received letters of resistance made haste to visit those families and convinced them of the need to provide toilets to their families. “But 75% of the parents committed to building toilets,” Bhure confirmed.
In an attempt to make the entire district open defecation free (ODF), the district administration put children high on the agenda.
“We decided to focus on the younger generation. To reach the head of the family, it seemed a good idea to target those close to him or her and kids are undoubtedly very dear to their parents and so we started with them,” he said, explaining that ever since the Swachh Bharat Mission began its campaign there, they had been brainstorming ways to implement the programme effectively, while pondering over novel ideas.
For starters, they began with training of about 80 community resource persons on all matters pertaining to the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin as well as Swachh Vidyalaya; about good sanitation practices, ill effects of open defecation, the need to build and use toilets and ways to trigger behaviour change.
Thereafter, in a well-thought-out plan, meetings were conducted in 1738 schools in eight shifts. On completion of their training, each of the community resource persons was allotted about 20-25 schools that they visited several times to speak to children about hygiene and the health benefits it would bring.
“We pointed out to the children that at anganwadi or school, they use toilets; so why should they have to relieve themselves outside when at home? The response we received was amazing,” Bhure smiled.
As a part of Swachh Vidyalaya the district administration intended to follow about 8-10 steps. One of them was writing letters to parents. “We realized it had to be a mass based activity and not a solitary effort. In fact, the idea to write to their parents first came from children themselves,” he added.