Punjab had made a strategic decision that all beneficiaries had to build toilets on their own, rather than depend on informal contractors. However, people in the Pakhon Kalan village of Barnala district, majority of who were marginalized farmers, belonging to the labour class could not afford to do so.
The Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) team was keen to ensure that all families had access to sanitation. Although the Sarpanch was very proactive and approved of toilets, he wanted to be involved in the construction process which the district administration did not approve of.
Earlier, the district sanitation team had conducted several triggering camps and school awareness campaigns to bring about behaviour change and convince people to adopt safe sanitation practices. Yet, the response from the community was less than forthcoming. Hence teams from both the district and the state held discussion with the Sarpanch and the community together.
They participated in a meeting that was called for another purpose and raised the issue of community sanitation. The Sarpanch stressed the point that they were poor and could not afford to build toilets. Amid arguments and differences of opinion, it emerged that despite the allocation of sufficient funds to the village, toilets were not being built.
Eventually, a woman stood up and declared that she would build her toilet herself. The simple statement made by the courageous widow and a mother of two had a rippling effect. It triggered the community far more than they could imagine. If she can do it, why can’t we, the people wondered!
The sanitation team was also keen to promote bath-cum-toilets as they believed it would ensure 100% usage of toilets. The idea was promoted at the same event through a human chain – started by one woman and then 2 and 4 until there were more than 30 women who stood in line, in a show of strength, supporting their need for a bath cum toilet. The outcome of that activity was that the Sarpanch agreed to their demand and cooperated fully with the toilet construction activity. At the same meeting, a motivator was unanimously selected and oriented to her role in bringing about behaviour change, and ensuring that people use their household toilets, while putting an end of open defecation once and for all.
As far as team SBM was concerned, the meeting was a resounding success. They did not foresee that matters would turnaround in just a day. Participation of the community, particularly women can do wonders, they realised.
Over the next few weeks, women of the village were involved in all decisions – from selecting the location of their toilets to picking accessories. In the end all homes got bath cum toilets with a washing area, all constructed by beneficiaries themselves.
The Sarpanch and other members of the community are very proud of their village and their new toilets. As many as 892 toilets have been validated. Best of all, 100% usage has been reported.
Inputs: Sevya Sharma, Community Development Specialist, Punjab