Her methods to convince people about safe sanitation practices were simple. She was persistent as she moved ahead with a clear understanding of the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) goal which is to have a healthier society. Meet Bonti Saikia, president of Charaipani gram panchayat (GP) in Johat district of Assam.
Owing to the dedicated efforts of Bonti Saikia, the wife of Indreswar Baruah Jatin Saikia, all households – those listed in the baseline survey (BLS) and those not listed, have access to sanitation facilities, making the panchayat open defecation free (ODF) on 2nd October, 2017, a year after the campaign was launched. The latter were achieved through CSR funds of ONGC.
Today, all the residents of Charaipani GP which comprises of three tea gardens use their toilets, having completely stopped the practice of open defecation. The outcome of this behavior change is seen in the dramatic reduction of the number of diarrhea cases that are common after monsoons each year, mainly due to poor sanitation. In fact, there were absolutely no cases of diarrhea at the end of the monsoon in 2017, according to the district administration.
Previously, the lady GP president had personally monitored the construction of all toilets, keeping records of contributions from NGO/SHGs (Self Help Groups) that supported construction of toilets. She very efficiently coordinated with engineers and block coordinators of Public Health Engineering Department, ensuring that the ODF verification process of her GP was done in a proper manner.
The efforts of Bonti Saikia have inspired people of the panchayat. She demonstrated courage, as she did everything in her power to convince authorities to ensure that all households, irrespective of being in the BLS or not, got access to sanitary facilities. Also, she gave authentic and timely reports of all eligible households that were left out of BLS, which made it easier for the District Water and Sanitation Committee to send a proposal for CSR funds to ONGC. Without the support of local NGOs/SHGs which she enlisted, construction of quality toilets in such a quick manner would not have been possible.
As far as behavior change is concerned, she made sure people understood the importance of using toilets. This she did by conducting several meetings with the village people and carrying out regular inspection to check the awareness levels of the people and the quality of toilets being constructed. If she noticed any discrepancy, she complained to the concerned engineers and set the matter right.
Her commitment to cleanliness can be seen in her GP Office, which is one of the cleanest and well maintained GP offices in the district, with proper sanitary facilities, dustbins, trees and flower gardens.
A resident of Gohainjan Gaon, Bonti Saikia, has been engaged as a Swachhagrahi for the last year and a half. Previously, she was previously a primary school teacher, and later got involved in community work. Currently, she is working towards an ODF sustainability process and providing safe water supply facilities to the people of her Panchayat.
(Inputs: Swati Baruah, ZSBP-Jorhat)