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(Photo credits: WaterAid India)

The snowball effect of toilets!

By Shaktivardhan Dharni and Shalini Chaturvedi/WAI

Safety and security of family, friends, and neighbours is always a key concern for everyone. But the unease increases manifold when women and girls have to venture out in the open to defecate. Daya Ram Meena, the Sarpanch of Toksi village in Gangapur block of Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan realized that constructing toilets could address this critical issue for not just his own family, but also his community. Here is how he was instrumental in making his village open defecation-free.

Sawai Madhopur district is located in the eastern part of Rajasthan. Until two years ago, a majority of the district was at a high risk of illnesses and severe diarrhoea due to unhygienic surroundings. Open defecation, highly prominent in the area led to a number of infections and bacterial diseases apart from the constant fear among women and girls of going out in the open at odd hours during the day.

One such Gram Panchayat is Toksi in Gangapur block. What the community really required was an immediate intervention to stop open defecation as well as manage the cleanliness and hygiene of the villages. They realized that the focus of work would have to be on adopting an approach, in order to align the construction of toilets along with greater levels of its acceptance amongst the community members.

The local leaders and Gram Panchayat acknowledged the growing problem and were determined to do something for the well-being of the community. WaterAid and its partner collaborated with the Gram Panchayat and Sarpanch to analyse the situation and address issues related to safe sanitation.

“In an orientation session on sanitation, organized by WaterAid, I learned so much about the benefits of decent sanitation and the adverse impacts of open defecation. Thereafter, we decided to mobilize my Gram Panchayat, create a demand for toilets, and thus motivate the villagers to use toilets regularly” shared Daya Ram Meena, Sarpanch of Toksi village in Gangapur block of Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan. At first, the journey towards attaining the open defecation-free (ODF) status seemed tough. “In the beginning, it was not easy to convince the villagers. They believed in their age-old traditional practice of not constructing a toilet at home, and thus defecating in the open

The villagers were ignorant towards the fact that open defecation was the root cause of their health problems” adds Daya Ram.

Daya Ram discussing the need of a toilet and its functionality with the community members. (photo credits: WaterAid India)

Daya Ram faced a lot of resistance from the village in building a toilet and realized that ensuring the usage of these toilets would be even more difficult. But he did not step down. He continued with his everyday conversations with the villagers, in small or big groups. He also attended each orientation and workshop organised by WaterAid along with the district and block officers so that he could learn to convince the community to build toilets.

At one such orientation, Daya Ram actively participated in the discussion on the safety of women and girls as they ventured out to defecate in the open. Soon, he organised a Ratri Chaupal (a meeting with all the villagers after 7 PM in the evening, when everyone is back after work) in his villages. He invited WaterAid as well as officials of the district and block administration to mobilise the community on issues like safety and security.

The community began to relate to the problem, especially with raising concerns on the issue. Gradually they began to voice the issue in their families and neighbourhood. Furthermore, awareness sessions and a basic understanding of the benefits of having a toilet at home were discussed in the village regularly.

As and when some of the community members agreed to construct a toilet at home, Daya Ram introduced them to WaterAid for technical support for the construction. With each toilet being built in the community, the rest of the villagers expressed interest in constructing one at their own home. It had a snowball effect.

A resident of Toksi village, outside his toilet. (photo credits: WaterAid India)

And soon open defecation was no more a household practice.

“I can proudly say that the entire district is now open defecation-free” claims Daya Ram. At the larger level, 17 other Gram Panchayats of Gangapur block, as well as four Gram Panchayats of Sawai Madhopur block, have been declared ODF so far. Motivated with the benefits of using household toilets, the villagers and the Sarpanch now work towards managing the solid and liquid waste that is being collected in the community in order to make their village not just clean but healthy as well.