How Abhanpur pulled off the ‘10,000 toilets in 10 days’ campaign

Sweccha Sharma

Abhanpur block of Raipur district in Chhattisgarh managed to build 10,000 toilets in 10 days during a special campaign held between 7th and 17th September, 2017.  Union Minister for Information, Broadcasting and Textiles, Smt. Smriti Irani was there on the last day for the culmination of the event that incidentally fell on the birthday of Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi who has put Swachh Bharat Mission as one of the top flagship programmes of the country.

“We had to strike when the iron is hot,” explained CEO of the Janpat Panchayat, Abhanpur, Ms. Swechha Singh, explaining the circumstances that led to the campaign.  Having engaged in multifarious activities to bring about positive behaviour change in the block including CLTS training and offering monetary incentives, the district officials had left their offices and took up residence amongst the people, in the villages to conduct triggering exercises over a period of 10 days.

“We had created the right environment and there was huge support from the community and district officials which was sufficient momentum for the toilet construction campaign,” she added.

According to her, the area located in the heart of the capital was initially very difficult to penetrate as it was politically very sensitive.  As for the people, they were affluent and resourceful.  However, with 2 crops every season, they were quite occupied and did not take interest in social causes.  Hence, it was difficult to bring about behaviour change amongst them.

In the run up to the campaign, there was considerable focus on women, children and youth.  The block officials including field staff, MNREGA workers, local leaders and PRI staff involved the community in various games, art and cultural activities, quizzes, nukkad naatak and other IEC activities including door to door visits, bike rallies, wall paintings and ratri chaupals.  Further, targets were set and time bound monitoring was carried out.

The first day of the campaign dawned with fresh excitement.  It turned into a festival of sorts with music blaring from speakers even as the Janpad CEO took on the role of a DJ; and people scurried about involved in various building activity.  The whatsapp group specially set up for the 10-day campaign helped resolve most of the problems – from shortage of construction materials and masons; telling people where they could avail of men and material.

Most than anything, the campaign transformed the mission into  movement and helped people bond with each other as they participated with much enthusiasm in the shramdan of building toilets.  “It was a thrilling experience when people from all religions came together creating a ‘We feeling.’  It seemed as if a big family was working for a common cause,” Singh recalled.  While every woman was carrying bricks, every man was laying the bricks, lining the twin pits and building the super structures.  More than 800 masons were on the job to provide technical support while the families themselves helped with digging.

Earlier, the SBM officials had special sessions for masons, counseling them about techniques to use for building twin pit toilets and advantages of twin pit toilets.  Therefore, the masons advocated twin pit toilets, convincing people that it was the least expensive, safest and most effective kind of toilet.  As a result, more than 80% of the toilets built were twin pit models.

As in all events, there were some reluctant members who needed extra persuading.  Special guard was kept over a family that continued to defecate in the open, until they relented.  Singh tells the story of one elderly man who was ill and could not construct his toilet.  It was the district officials who themselves got his pits dug and convinced him to build a toilet.

One aspect that people appreciated most was that common defecation sites were converted into gardens for children to play.

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