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Girls Show the Way

© UNICEF/ 2008
Toilet structures match the community environment

Vidya Kulkarni

Yavatmal, Maharashtra, June 2008: If you look for apparent signs of development in Tipeshwar village you are likely to be disappointed.

Located deep in the dense forests, this adivasi (indigenous people) dominated village in Ghatangi block in Yavatmal district has no roads nor a health center.

For public transport, villagers rely on the sole auto-rickshaw which makes a single trip a day to the nearest market located 10 kms away.

In the absence of this ride, people have to walk through forests and hills for their usual household shopping of vegetables and grains and even further, about 10 kms more, to reach a public health facility. The local school is only upto the primary level.

Despite such hardships, the villagers, who are mostly engaged in rain fed farming, exhibit a progressive sensibility in matters of sanitation.

Not only is the village spotlessly clean but recently it also stopped open defecation completely.

By participating in the government’s Total Sanitation Campaign, this village of 200 households, has built toilets for all households and become open defecation free.

The fact that Tipeshwar’s success rests on the persistent efforts of a local young woman, Aruna Sable, makes this story even more extraordinary.

Twenty two year old Aruna candidly admits that she got involved in the sanitation drive only accidentally.

Selected as a village volunteer during the Village Planning process in March 2007, Aruna got exposed to the outer world through training and exposure visits organised by UNICEF. “I participated in the basic foundation training for volunteers and was also involved in Deepshikha training for adolescent girls. I got quite motivated to start local level activities to be able to use my knowledge for the benefit of the community.”

Aruna mobilised a group of young girls and started regular weekly sessions with them to share valuable lessons she learnt in her training.

The first major task she took upon her was promotion of toilets. “The micro planning exercise revealed that there was only one household toilet in the entire village with a population of 850. Open defecation was common as we are surrounded by jungles and have plenty of space around.”

© UNICEF/ 2008
Aruna, with her friends, convinced people

Aruna recalls her initial frustrations when she first approached the villagers with the idea of toilets. “Nobody was ready to listen. For them toilets was not a priority. Everyone was so engrossed in their daily struggle for survival that they hardly had time and energy to give a thought to what I was trying to convey. Then instead of talking to the elders I shifted my attention to my peers and convinced adolescent girls on the health implications of open defecation and benefits of using toilets instead.”

With a number of girls requesting their parents to consider this option for the betterment of the village and individual hygiene, the sanitation drive gained momentum.

The interesting aspect of the toilet construction in Tipeshwar is that this facility is built with low cost local materials and the model is totally compatible with the environment.
 
“All the toilets have a single pit and are made with local materials. The walls are made of dry wood sticks and soil and the triangular roof is made of grass. Those having skills in making doors have made simple structures to get privacy and others have made curtains from rags or think cloth. Actual construction work is done by the family members themselves through voluntary labor” Aruna said.

The village secretary joined in with local efforts and made government funds accessible for buying toilet pots and minimum required building materials for the foundation and pipes.

All the toilets were completed within a span of one year and the village became open defecation free in March 2008.

Monitoring toilet use was a critical part of the sanitation drive in the initial days. The community decided to fine those who still followed the old practice.

With time, all the villagers got used to using their household toilets and now boast of the benefit and comfort that they experience from them.

The villagers, including Aruna and her associates, also have a larger motive behind their successful sanitation drive. “Our village has long been neglected by the government. Now after attaining the status of an Open Defecation Free village we look forward to the government initiating other development projects to fulfill our other needs,” said Aruna on behalf of the villagers.

Having proved their collective will, the villagers are confident that the government would certainly take notice of their other requirements.

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