A toilet first; other work can wait, says Phoolkumari Devi

Phoolkumari deviWithout access to clean and safe toilets, women in many villages have to answer nature’s call behind bushes or in fields, putting themselves at risk of health problems, sexual assault and even running the risk of being bit by snakes and scorpions.  This is true in the case of Phoolkumari Devi who grew up in a home that had no toilet.

Wife of Vasant Oraon from Jungur Panchayat in Latehar district of Jharkhand, Phoolkumari always felt that only another woman would truly be able to understand their plight of having to defecate in the open every single day.  The worst part of it all was that, it was a daily routine; and it had to be in the dark – before the break of dawn or after nightfall.  The exercise became a bigger challenge during the monsoons or if one became ill, pregnant or was menstruating.  In fact, she believed that making arrangements for food and water was relatively easier compared to going out to answer nature’s call.

When the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin campaign was launched in her gram panchayat, the woman participated in triggering and awareness building exercises very attentively.  She realized that a toilet would alleviate sufferings of women to a large extent.  And if the facility could contribute to health and well being of the entire community, then it seemed an answer to all their worries.

She decided that they would get a toilet.  However, it had to be ready, well before a daughter in law stepped into the threshold of her house.  She did not want her daughter in law to experience the difficulty of going outdoors for her ablutions.

For the last several years, she has been associated with the Milk Club Self Help Group.  They provided her incentive in three installments.  With their support and that of the District Water and Sanitation Committee, she was able to get a toilet constructed in her home.  She admits that she is both healthy and happy to be using the toilet.

She now appeals to all women, urging them to build their toilets soon; to not allow their daughters in law lose their dignity by defecating in the open.  “Leave all other work aside – build you toilets first,” she says.

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ODF sustainability drive begins in Nellore

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With a view to ensuring sustainability of the recently achieved ODF (open defecation free) status, the district administration of Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh has commenced a massive drive called Athmagowrava Deeksha.

Launched on 3rd December, 2017, the event saw the participation of over 5000 people comprising of PRI (Panchayati Raj Institutions) functionaries, motivators, swachhagrahis and district officials, all of them sporting white clothes with green scarves and wrist bands which was the official dress code of the event.

Nellore which was declared ODF on 23rd September, 2017, has also completed verification.  So far, as many as 3,09,262 toilets have been constructed across the district during the last three years.  However, this event, the first in a 41-day long intensive campaign, provided an opportunity to provide information about how to sustain ODF status.

According to District Collector, A. Md. Imtiaz, a multipronged strategy had been planned to create awareness that using toilets would contribute to good health, safe environment and general well being among the community.  It has included steps for monitoring and ensuring that people continue the habit of using toilets.  Admitting that toilet usage was about 80%, he said that the ODF sustainability drive would ensure they achieve 100% usage.  The launch was reinforced through stage rallies promoting safe sanitation in various places.

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Other activities that will be carried out as a part of the ODF sustainability drive are – clean and green drive, night stays, morning follow-up with village vigilance committees, awareness sessions in schools, competitions, human chain, signature campaign, run of pride, burying of water vessel used during open defecation, exhibitions, health camps, meeting with religious leaders, awareness about waste management, hand washing , disposal of sanitary napkins, cultural programmes and selfie with toilet contests.  On the 41st day of the campaign, rallies would be held across villages.

Reiterating the objectives of the campaign, Programme Coordinator, Sushmita Reddy, said that they plan to raise awareness about the need to transform the status of the district from ODF to ODF plus.

ODF plus refers to total sanitation in terms of solid waste management, improved sewerage lines, storm water drains and pucca cement roads, in addition to open defecation free status.

Building a toilet was a priority for Kailash Das

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Once Kailash Das of Gumuriya gram panchayat in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand was convinced about safe sanitation practices and need to use toilets, he made it a priority to build a toilet near his humble abode.  With that decision made, changing behaviour of his entire family became easy, rewarding and normal.

Earning a meagre income of Rs.45,000 annually, the family comprising of his wife, sons and daughters in law, barely made enough to make ends meet.

According to block coordinator, Sanju, the family had never heard of toilets or the need to use them.  So when the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBMG) campaign was launched in Gumuriya GP and neighbouring villages situated in Jagannathpur block, several triggering exercises were carried out, engaging the community in awareness building.

KhailashThe subject of toilets soon became the chief topic of discussion among families in the GP.  Although a little late, Kailash Das too felt motivated.  Reflecting on his family situation, he realised how difficult it was to relieve themselves outdoors particularly in the rainy season and soon after harvest.  About the women in his family, he could only imagine the difficulties they endured each day as they were forced to go out – taking risks and putting their dignity at risk.  He was able to relate to the core values of SBMG, so much so that he initiated self-construction of a toilet near his home, without government incentive.

The whole process, he made easy by removing impediments and excuses.  He got his family to contribute resources, time and effort.  Thereafter, they procured all the necessary building material and engaged masons, who quickly dug the toilet pits and built the super structure.

Once completed, the exercise was certainly rewarding – he felt happy and content, not to mention the womenfolk in his family who were delighted with their fully functional flush toilet.  They knew that their health and well being was assured.

In addition, it felt normal – they belonged to a community of self-respecting people who like his family felt the need to use toilets.

Today, Kaliash motivates other villagers to do the same; to undertake toilet construction on their own, considering it was their health and family that will benefit from the exercise.

(Inputs from ZSBP-West Singhbhum, Jharkhand)

Effective convergence of SBMG & VO accelerates toilet construction

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Village Organisation (VO) – Ajeevika Jaiguru Gram Sangathan, has played a leading role in construction of 28 individual household latrines (IHHL) in Kendo village of Chakradharpur block in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand with funding support of Rs. 3,36,000.

The VO was formed under National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) project by Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society with active support of District Water and Sanitation Committee (DWSC) – Chakradharpur and Block Development Officer (BDO) – Chakradharpur.  Effective convergence of Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBMG) and the VO has accelerated construction of toilets in the block.

For starters, to equip VO members, DWSC, BDO, UNICEF, Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) and Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) field staff collaborated to organise a one day triggering exercise cum orientation programme on 24th September.  In addition, a five-day mason training programme and a five-day sanitation programme supported by UNICEF was organised by DWSC at block level.

Notwithstanding the different roles played by each of the organisations, they actively participated in the triggering exercises and follow-up activities carried out subsequently.  Their dedication towards the SBMG campaign has motivated the Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) and the VO to put in all possible efforts for the success of the mission.

Prior to this training, the village communities had no experience of constructing toilets or maintaining them.  In fact, it was a first-hand experience for VO members to undertake IHHL construction work under SBM-G. They had to also deal with procurement of material from multiple vendors in Chakradharpur while recruiting masons from neighbouring villages.  In certain areas that lacked manpower, the VO members took the lead and provided ‘Shramdaan’ or voluntary service to construct toilets.

SingbhumThe village community and PRI members have actively supported the efforts of the VO by providing all necessary guidance and inputs to accomplish the target.

Experience gained from this activity of building individual toilets has motivated members of the VO to promote toilet usage. The success of this case has led to JSLPS and UNICEF developing a model for convergence of SBM activities and other schemes with VO as a viable platform.

It has also built up a healthy competition between VWSCs and VOs that is helping the entire village work towards the open defecation free (ODF) target.

(Inputs from ZSBP-West Singhbhum, Jharkhand)

Families in Etah district return incentive amount worth Rs. 25.8 lakhs

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In a surprising turn of events, families for various gram panchayats in Etah district of Uttar Pradesh returned incentive money to the tune of Rs.25,80,000 back to the district officials.  The money had been given to them by the government to build toilets.

According to district officials, a total of 215 families from 7 villages returned the incentive money. They included 90 families from Gram Jinaihra; 15 from Gram Akhtauli Ratanpur; 10 from Gram Sarai Ahmad khan; 15 from Nagla Shyam; 30 from Gram Mirahchi; 20 from Gram Sirshatippu; and 35 from Gram Robina Mirzapur.

Commenting on the noble gesture, District Magistrate, Etah, Shri Amit Kishore said, “It is a great achievement, a very rare one too, considering that people normally do not wish to return money.”  Throughout the campaign, the district officials have emphasized sustainability and ownership – both of which are guaranteed when people pay for their own toilets.  “People in these villages are equating toilets with dignity (Izzat Ghar), and that is good sign,” the DM added.

As far as the strategy is concerned, the DM involved local leaders, many women, and active SHGs in triggering as well as motivating exercises.  “Our strong team was able to dilute any challenges that arose,” Mr. Kishore said.

In October 2014, the sanitation coverage in Etah was barely 17%.  Furthermore, the toilets that existed were without pits and insanitary.  With increased focus on quality during building of toilets, the sanitation coverage has now increased to 37%.  Further, as many as 150 villages out of the total 576 villages are now open defecation free (ODF).

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With many activities being carried out, the DM is hopeful of making 5 of the 8 blocks ODF by January 26th, 2018 and the rest of the district ODF by 2nd October, 2018.  In the pipeline are plans to fix issues pertaining to MIS and geo-tagging, even as verification will be carried out at 3 levels.

Earlier, to mark the holy month of Ramzan, a similar gesture was made by the people of Mubarakpur Kala in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district that left the district administration authorities pleasantly bewildered.  They had turned down Rs. 17.5 lakhs from the government and preferred to collect money to build toilets as a good deed during their festive season.

Bhind to become ODF in March 2018

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This district administration of Bhind has prepared a detailed roadmap, taking into consideration the needs and requirements of the region, while involving other government departments, with a view to making the district located in the Chambal division, open defecation free (ODF) by 31st March, 2017.

Aptly called Operation Swabhimaan Bhind, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) campaign spearheaded by District Magistrate Dr. Iliyaraja T and former CEO Zila Panchayat, Mr. Praveen Singh seeks to restore the self respect of every individual in the district by ensuring they have access to sanitation.

According to district officials, the people of the area by nature, value the virtues of self-respect and dignity, having sent a number of their youth to join the armed forces.

Moreover, sanitation coverage in the region characterized by uneven ravines, plain fertile fields and dense forests was barely 20.17% before the launch of the SBM campaign, an indication of the grim situation that the women in that region faced, often having to relieve themselves either before sunrise or after sunset.

Comprising of six blocks namely, Bhind, Ater, Roan, Lahar, Mehgaon and Gohad, the district has a total of 453 gram panchayats and 883 villages.    With a population of 1,703,562 (as per 2011 census), the baseline survey revealed that of 1,93,065 households, 38,951 homes had toilets while 1,54,114 homes were yet to have access to sanitation facilities. Further, some of the GPs experienced water scarcity.

In a region where people were accustomed to defecating in the vast open land that was available in abundance and failed to see the need for toilets in their homes; changing behaviour and giving priority to sanitation was undoubtedly a tough challenge.

Walking a little distance each morning to do the job was a habit practiced by men, women and children.  Further, men took all decisions, according women an inferior status in their households.  Under the circumstances, even if a woman wanted a household toilet, the decision was left to the man.

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With a view to giving momentum to the SBM campaign, the District Magistrate focused on monitoring and regular evaluation of the scheme.  He visited GPs in person, talking to people about the ills of open defecation.  This inspired people in the administration as well as the villages such as sarpanchs, gram secretaries and Gramin Rojgar Shayaks owing to which in 2016,  62 villages were declared open defecation free.  In 2017, the number of ODF villages increased to 186 out of which 184 were verified.

As per mid November 2017, construction of 85,603 toilets was completed and 76,604 toilets were yet to be built; increasing the sanitation coverage to 60.32% in a matter of two years.

Among their winning strategies were the appointment of a swachhta sena, comprising of locally motivated and dedicated persons at GP level; trained preraks which today number 356; Nigrani Samitis and Bal Senas at every GP that visit common open defecation sites and advise people about adopting safe sanitation practices.

Such activities have helped create the desired momentum at every level, paving the way for achieving ODF status in a time bound manner.

Tin toilets for Jagdalpur

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When the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBMG) was launched in Jagdalpur of Bastar district in Chhattisgarh, the plan was to build regular toilets using cement and bricks.  However, when the first batch of construction material was delivered, the move alerted the left wing extremists (LWE) that are active in the region.  They forbade such activity, fearing that those structures could become police outposts and can be strategically utilized by the paramilitary against them.

To address this, the district administration came up with the solution of constructing ‘tin toilets’ at a base camp of sorts and delivering the superstructures to already built foundations, in the gram panchayats of Kaknar, Palam, Mahim, Binta and Bheja which are located in the valley region of river Indravati, according to CEO Jagdalpur – Ritesh Kumar Aggrawal.

The region which is home to people who are mostly engaged in agrarian economy has a unique geographical terrain, located as it is in the valley, surrounded by thick forests.  Other challenges that prevent implementation of development projects of the government in the region are lack of infrastructure such as travelable roads and bridges over streams that make the villages quite inaccessible.  LWE exert considerable influence over the region.

As per the new plan, the superstructures are constructed using rust-proof tin and then carried to the specified village to rest on the foundation made of bricks and cement.  The sub-structure which includes the base where the toilet pan sits and the twin soak pits are made in the normal method.

Yet, the task remains tough, as the poor excuse of roads make it risky for the transporting vehicle to deliver the finished product to the villages.  On top of this, the local contractors fearing the LWE in the region refuse to enter region, said Janpad CEO Lohadiguda – Anil Thombre.

Tin toilet2Under the circumstances, efforts from some members of the community enable the SBM activities to be carried out at a slow but steady pace in the region.  Take the example of Chavan Kumar, a government teacher by profession who resides in Mainpara of Binta GP who has provided considerable support to the district administration.  His efforts towards advocating SBMG programme to the community have proved fruitful as seen in the case of one panchayat which had no toilets to begin with, now has a significant number of households possessing one.

The Binta gram panchayat also serves as a ‘base camp’ for construction of the tin toilets which are subsequently delivered to panchayats and villages down the valley such as GP Bheja.

Albeit the presence of the LWE does affect developmental intervention in the region to some extent, the panchayats of Kaknar, Mahim, Palam, Binta and Bheja today have increased toilet coverage in comparison to last year.  This change has been partly enabled by the increased presence of the CRPF camps in the region and partly due to the community efforts by members such as Chavan Kumar who have informed and educated people about the necessity of proper sanitation and hygiene practices.

In addition, efforts are being made in interpersonal communication (IPC) with the community members who still stand divided due to the violent acts perpetuated by radical agents. These efforts will be increased in the near future, as accessibility to these regions ensures that more community members are brought in the fold of the mission.

Further, the good response towards toilets and the sanitation programme as a whole have impacted the status of the programme in the region, as a properly build toilet motivates others to go for the same.  With increase participation the aforementioned panchayats are likely to be made into ‘base camps’ for further interventions deep in the valley region.

(Inputs from ZSBP-Jagdalpur)

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