Tamil Nadu has a large sanitation workforce of about 66,000 who are called Thooimai Kaavalars or protectors of the environment. Consisting of both men and women, they are normally assigned to door-to-door collection and segregation of waste, composting of biodegradable waste; storage of non-biodegradable waste and its sale to recyclers and keeping their allotted streets and lanes clean. In performing this invaluable service to society, they are considered heroes of the Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen (SBM-G).
Here is an account of T.M. Gracy Helen – a swachhata champion who has been working tirelessly to transform villages in her district into model ODF Plus villages:
A master trainer from Kovandakurichi Village Panchayat in Pullambadi Block of Trichy District, T.M Gracy Helen has been a member of a women’s Self-Help Group (SHG) since 2000. Having been appointed as a sanitation master trainer in 2015, she has performed various roles effectively in community mobilization and earned the title of a role model Motivator in her District by promoting safe sanitation and personal hygiene practices among the rural people, through regular visits to schools and anganwadis.
In Phase I of SBM-G, she motivated as many as 1520 beneficiaries in her Block to construct and use twin pit toilets that contributed immensely to making her village panchayat open defecation free. She has been a key influencer in propagating sanitation messages in all the available platforms not only at village level meetings but also at public health centres, schools and anganwadi centres. Her communication skills played a major role in bringing about the behavioural change in her village. What attracted children and others the most were the awareness sessions which she made as interesting as possible through her sanitation songs. Trained in community-based monitoring (CBM), she monitors the usage of toilets by mapping, and engages the community to keep track of toilets that are not in use.
With the commencement of SBM-G Phase II, Helen has been actively involved in monitoring and maintaining the Integrated Sanitary Complexes, and ensuring proper usage, towards sustaining the ODF status. As State Level Master Trainer, she has trained more than 2000 motivators, Panchayat Raj Institution (PRI) representatives, Village Poverty Reduction Committee (VPRC) members, Panchayat level Federations (PLF), and SHG members of various districts. She has also conducted special drives in SC/ST habitations, encouraging people there to construct twin pit toilets and use them regularly.
Today, she accompanies Thooimai Kaavalars in door-to-door collection of waste and ensures that households segregate waste at source and encourages onsite composting of wet waste. She continues to mobilize people in her village and conducts rallies and awareness campaigns to eliminate Single Use Plastics (SUP), while presenting to them alternatives – both in schools and in PLF/VPRC meetings.
To promote greywater management, she encourages households to cultivate kitchen gardens. She has also motivated people to construct individual soak pits at HH level under MGNREGS, explaining to them the benefits of the same. All such activities have contributed to making her village visually clean. Her priority now is to make her village a model ODF Plus village.