Katta Padmavathi is a woman with a mission

Katta Padmavathi

It’s barely 4.30 am and the sky is still dark when she wakes up and makes her way outside.  There she meets with others who join her in various cleaning activities – sweeping the roads, picking up paper and plastic that is strewn about, gathering vegetable and other waste from the market place and removing unwanted weeds on the roadsides.  Meet Sarpanch of Challapalli gram panchayat, in the Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh, Katta Padmavathi who has been the driving force, taking her village to an open defecation free (ODF) plus status.

When Padmavathi heard about the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin, she designed a campaign titled, ‘Swachh Challapalli.’   “All of us in our village pledged to bring total sanitation to the village in 1000 days from the day the national campaign was flagged off on 2nd October, 2014,” she said.

Towards this, the Sarpanch who was elected to this position on 2nd August, 2013 mobilized all community members from the 11 villages that belong to the panchayat until her panchayat was declared ODF on 4th April, 2017.   Moreover, she has engaged the community in various other cleaning programmes – such as cleaning and de-silting of drains.  During the plantation drive she initiated recently, every family was provided one sapling (Neem, Mango, Coconut, Chikoo or Custard Apple) each and 4000 others were planted at various spots across the village.

It is a matter of pride for the 28-year old Sarpanch that every home in the village has a gas connection in addition to a toilet.  Efforts are also being made to ensure better health and reduction in cases of infant and maternal mortality.  Further, all children in school going age have been enrolled in schools.  Recently, cycles were distributed to 34 girl students studying in 10th grade.

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On a personal note, having passed 10th grade earlier, Padmavathi completed her graduation after assuming her role as Sarpanch.  Coming from an economically backward family without a proper dwelling place to call her own, she was married to a farm labourer.  Seeing leadership potential in her, it was her uncle who supported her and motivated her to stand for Sarpanch elections.

“From my school days, I wanted to help the community and work for development,” she said.

As far as anganwadis are concerned, of the 14 that exist, 5 have pucca buildings and proposals have been sent to the government for the remaining 9.  Work has also commenced for underground drainage and Tar roads.  Further, a large public toilet complex has been constructed at the New NTR Park.  Other works in progress are a dumping yard for solid waste and a burial ground.  “When this is done, our village will be a model village,” she said.

Incidentally, the Chief Minister is expected to visit the village when on the 1000th day when the campaign comes to an end.

A sanitary complex on former defecation site for Kappaldoddi

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All the families in Kappaldoddi Gram Panchayat (GP) of Gudur Mandal in Krishna District had toilets constructed in their homes except for 20 who had no space for construction of the same.  Keen to make the GP ODF as soon as possible, the Sarpanch identified a space on the outskirts of the village that was earlier used for open defecation and got the Mandal officials to sanction about 30 cents of land to make a sanitary complex.

Designed with the help of the Deputy Engineer and Assistant Engineer, the sanitary complex comprised 20 independent toilets, each of them allocated to one of the 20 families.  They were marked to that effect and the families were given keys to their respective toilets to symbolize ownership.

This was one of the many efforts made by the Sarpanch of Kappaldoddi GP which was home to over 4000 individuals.  He also appointed Swacchagrahis with Swacchatta Doots or ambassadors who went around the village collecting information and explaining to the people about the benefits of the SBM scheme; and invited district officials who visited the village to talk to the community about sanitation.

However, the Sarpanch played a clever trick.  Identifying common defecation sites, he told maintenance staff to stop cleaning those areas.  A year down the line, people were baffled and approached the Sarpanch, complaining about the filth and stench.  The village headman took this opportunity to inform them about the SBM (G) Scheme, the importance of using toilets and encouraged them to cooperate in making their GP ODF.

To begin with, less than 10 families agreed to construct toilets.  But when financial assistance started to come in, more families were willing to make space in their homes for the facility.  The Sarpanch played a commendable role in submitting their applications and getting dues cleared.  For those who were short of resources, he got them loans from self-help groups, ensuring they were repaid when SBM funds were released.  He also convinced masons, carpenters and construction teams to complete work early, assuring them of timely payments.

The last 20 of them then had the use of the sanitary complex with adequate water supply, a hand pump and other paraphernalia.  The GP was declared ODF in 2015 but the Sarpanch is now keen to achieve complete sanitation in the village and improve sanitation facilities in their school.

Jaridih East panchayat is ODF thanks to Mukhia Kanchan Devi

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Kanchan Devi left her home in Kanpur when she was married to a man from Jaridih East panchayat in Bermo Block of Bokaro District in Jharkhand.  The first shock the school teacher received was finding that her husband’s home had no toilet.  However, being a submissive daughter-in-law she suffered in silence as she went out in the early hours with other women to defecate in the open.  In time, she got used to the idea.  However, the deep sense of shame and embarrassment she felt, never truly left her.

About a decade ago, it was a practice for water carriers to deliver a few gallons of water to each home in the village.  The water so distributed was never sufficient and method of distribution was not sustainable.  Kanchan was one among those who resolved to find a solution to the problem.  Considering that their gram panchayat was situated on the banks of River Damodar, they found a way to draw the river water into a tank and used a motor to provide regular water supply to all homes.

Her drive and enthusiasm got her elected as a Mukhiya in 2010 for the first time and again for a second time of the panchayat that was home to 859 households.

When the mother of 4 learnt about the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) after listening to the PM himself, as he spoke at the Red Fort on August 15, 2014, Kanchan felt incredibly motivated.  How wonderful it would be for all homes to have toilets, she thought as ideas ran through her mind.

Being a person who is fiercely determined to do or get what she wants, she got in touch with the district administration. She got all the residents of the village to participate in the awareness building and triggering sessions and encouraged everyone to build and use toilets.  Every opportunity she got, she conveyed to them the link between open defecation and disease as she urged them to follow safe sanitation practices.

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Kanchan was also instrumental in building two community-toilet complexes to cater to those families who lived on rent and to the landless.  One of them is close to the river bank and the other near the market place.   She has also put in place a system for solid waste management.  Currently there are 8 mobile garbage bins at strategic places that are used to collect waste from homes.  Such waste is then segregated.  While the non-biodegradable waste is sent for recycling the other waste is dumped in a common landfill.

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Today, the panchayat enjoys 100% sanitation coverage.  The Mukhiya also ensures that sanitation is maintained in her village.  Further, residents of the village regularly approach her for any problems such as those relating to water supply or garbage and she is able to effectively address those issues.

(With inputs from ZSBP – Bokaro)

Parents learn a thing or two from their children

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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.

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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.

 

Sanitation over superstition: 10,000 toilets for Kalaburagi

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The CEO of Zilla Panchayat in Kalaburagi District of Karnataka, Hephsiba Rani Korlapati has set an ambitious target of constructing 10,000 toilets in a period two weeks.  The individual household latrines are meant for the rural poor and priority is being given to families that have pregnant and lactating mothers.

The toilet building campaign started on World Environment Day (June 5th) and will come to an end on 17th June.  “We wanted to give a boost to the Swachh Bharat Mission and build momemtum,” the CEO said, adding that in the first week, they have covered 50% of the target.

A plantation drive has also been combined with the campaign and 5 fruit bearing trees (Guava, Chikoo, Pomegranate, Drumstick and Lemon) are being planted at each home.

“The idea is to link sanitation with nutrition and afforestation,” Korlapati said.  A backward district in north Karnataka, Kalaburagi has many cases of malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality each year.  “We wanted to address the issue of malnutrition holistically and point out that health and nutrition are interlinked,” she said.

 

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Earlier, the district administration had selected 7 villages – one in each taluk to carry out a similar exercise, albeit at a much smaller scale.  This pilot project was meant to push the idea of building toilets, and check the response of the communities.    The response of the initial experiment was overwhelming and it culminated with a district level public function during which a baby shower programme was organized.  It was a meaningful family event and the district administration used the occasion to distribute various IEC materials.

Ahead of this campaign which is being implemented on mission mode, considerable planning had gone into the project.  To begin with 40 beneficiaries were identified from each of the 264 gram panchayats in seven taluks, making a total of 10,560.

In addition, the CEO had roped in officials from various departments and officers from panchayat to district levels, as also ASHA workers who were enlisted to support the project.  As many as 30 nodal officers were given the responsibility of implementing the projects.  Further, masons were trained and put on the job, under the supervision of technicians.

There was an effective mechanism in place for supervision.  To provide guidance and Gulbargaensure effective monitoring of the activities, a WhatsApp group was formed.  Even as the CEO conducted several video conferences, continuous follow up was made and every officer had to post 3 pictures of every toilet being built – one of the pit, another of the super structure and one of a completed toilet.

Initially, there was some resistance. People in the area were against any kind of digging activity when there was a pregnant woman in the house.  To address this superstition, nodal officers visited their homes and during discussions helped breakdown those stereotypes.

Further, the officials made an announcement that pictures of couples who build toilets will be posted in a prominent place.  As the campaign progressed, they saw various inspiring images – of a mother-in-law and husband of a pregnant woman join hands to dig pits, and couples and entire families participating to construct toilets.

Needless to say, the community today is delighted with the turn of events.  In fact, many of them, numbering over 10,000 have willingly participated in digging of pits alongside the masons and district officials.

How could she return to a home without a toilet?

Srilakshmi (18) who was completing her Intermediate (+2) in Narasaravepet town did not want to return to her home in the village Peddireddipalem which was 8 kms away to stay or even visit.  How could she when they had no toilet facilities?

Having lived in town with access to sanitation facilities during the past four years, she did not plan to defecate in the open ever again.  After all, she had learnt about the ill effects of open defecation.  It was during awareness camps conducted in her college and hostel that Srilakshmi gathered information about good sanitation practices and the link between open defecation and disease.

Srilakshmi was fortunate to have received a scholarship under scheduled tribe (ST) category which met all her major expenses related to studies, although her parents occasionally, sent a little money for other expenses.

Of her decision, she knew her parents whom she visited during school holidays each year would not understand, but she was firm.  She was also aware of their financial constraints, considering they were agricultural labourers.  Moreover, their labour was seasonal for which they were paid daily wages. Under the circumstances they barely had enough for food.

Meanwhile, back home in Peddireddipalem, her mother Tirupatamma was at her wits end wondering how she would construct a toilet.  They did not have enough even for the initial expenditure, let alone completing it.  The family home was located in one of the most backward areas of the village.

At that point of time, the Gram Panchayat called for a meeting to discuss the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM).  Hearing of all the benefits a toilet would bring, Srilakshmi’s family decided to go ahead with the construction of a toilet with the subsidy that was provided under the scheme.

“We would have constructed a toilet even if there was no financial assistance from the government, because our daughter was adamant about it.  The Scheme was offered to us at the right time and that was a big help,” Tirupatamma said.

Home to 560 families, Peddireddipalem situated in Narsaraopet of Guntur District became ODF in 2015 after 112 toilets were built under the SBM (G).

Woman Sarpanch leads sanitation activities in Gollapadu

People in Gollapadu Gram Panchayat would never forget the two children – Seshu Babu (7) and Nagaraju (8) who lost their lives owing to snake bite when they went to defecate in the open ten years ago.  It was no doubt a tragedy that the village continues to reel from; but the incident was one of the motivating factors that made the village open defecation free (ODF).

Significantly, the village Sarpanch is Obbani Kumari, a woman who is well aware of the problems of defecating in the open, particularly for women and the elderly.  She works by the motto, “Dignity and respect to women in society,” which has inspired others in her community to feel as strongly about the issue as she is, leading to many taking up the construction of individual household toilets in this village in Muppala Mandal of Guntur district.

When the Swachh Bharat Mission campaign began in this 530 household strong GP with people from various communities such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward castes and others comprising its residents, the GP was short of 51 toilets to attain the ODF tag.

The GP team with support from the Sarpanch, ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, ANMs (auxiliary nurse midwife) and field assistants worked fervently.  Their task was to first convince villages to take up building toilets and informing them about the incentives available.  People had to know the link between using toilets and good health; and their mindsets had to change from the age-old tradition of defecating in the open.

To spread the message effectively, wall paintings and posters were pasted at every street corner to motivate people to take up construction.

In addition, the Panchayat secretary, Khan took care of all the documentation necessary for availing support under the scheme, while mandal level officials and school teachers pitched in to support awareness building during school committee meetings.

It needs mention that a youth by the name of Narendra provided initial construction money to a few families.  Some families had to be told how to make space and accommodate a facility within their homes.

Encouragingly, school children who are learning about cleaning equipment such as ‘Harpic’ are convincing their parents to buy products to keep their facilities clean.  Moreover, the village has ample water, which allows homes and schools to ensure cleanliness of their toilets.