Towards achieving total sanitation
By Vasuki Belavadi
Hyderabad, July 26, 2006: At first sight, KR Pet, 25 kms from Chikmaglur district in Karnataka looks like any other South Indian village. The milkman arrives sharp at 6.30 a.m., women emerge from their houses to draw traditional rangolis (auspicious designs outside of the house), and Siddappa Hotel gets ready to serve its customers steaming coffee and akkirotti (rice bread) with spicy chutney.
But what’s different from many other villages is that people here no longer have to go to the fields to complete their morning ablutions. They have a toilet at home. So what’s unique, you ask, aren’t houses supposed to have toilets? Till three months back, KR Pet didn’t have a single toilet. Women, men and children alike had to go out into the fields to relieve themselves. “When it rained or when men came that way, we women had no choice but to look the other way or cover ourselves. It was very embarrassing. Thanks to Jayamma, we have been able to get our own toilets,” acknowledges Sharada, mother of six-year old Siddesh.
Sharp at 9.30 a.m. the village Aanganwadi Centre (child care centre) doors open and kids starting trooping in. Jayamma, the anganwadi worker has already readied the centre for the kids to ‘learn while playing’. In the afternoon she has called for a meeting of all the women in the Dalit (most economically backward) colony of the village. “A couple of them haven’t yet constructed toilets and a few others haven’t begun to use them. The meeting is to reinforce the concept of total sanitation and its positive effects,” says Jayamma.
Jayamma was one of over 2,500 people who attended a total sanitation training camp for anganwadi workers sponsored by UNICEF and conducted by Centre for Environment Education, Bangalore. The training camps were aimed at propping up the 24% sanitation coverage in Karnataka through social motivation carried on by these critical change agents situated in the rural areas.
For Jayamma, convincing the villagers has not been easy. Several rounds of meetings, real life examples, the link between poor sanitation and illness convinced the villagers—both men and women—to construct toilets.
For the village folks —most of them agricultural labourers—money to construct toilets was a major hurdle. Jayamma decided to rope in the local bank manager. “She made several rounds to the bank. Seeing her enthusiasm and commitment, we decided to extend loans of Rs.1, 250 (US$ 27) to each household,” says Prasanth, manager, Indian Overseas Bank, Chikmaglur. Jayamma returned to the village and again called a meeting of all the Self-Help Group (SHG) members to break the good news and convinced the women to contribute Rs.10 everyday to repay the loan. It wasn’t long before the women agreed.
It again took several rounds of meetings with the local contractor do decide on the material to be used. Finally, when the first toilet was indeed constructed, everybody in the village could see what one person’s commitment and a little co-operation from them could do. It was a pucca (permanent) toilet, complete with brick and cement walls and a ventilator, a commode and a pit behind it. Very soon 20 more toilets came up.
News of this development traveled fast. Two kilometers on the other side of Chikmaglur, the people of Indavara village were charged and excited about getting their own toilets. All the 70-odd houses have dug pits and have readied the site for toilet construction. They have also volunteered to pitch in on the construction work and have set a deadline for themselves. Within one month all the houses will have their own toilets.
For those who have begun to use toilets in K R Pet, it’s a different experience altogether. “It’s such a relief. I no longer face embarrassing moments. I’ve realized the hygienic angle too. Also, children don’t have to defecate outdoors spoiling the environment,” says Manjula. She has also constructed an improvised bathroom around the toilet.
“It’s been rather difficult to convert the villagers’ strong opinions into hygiene needs,” recalls Jayamma. Some 10 out of the 20 families in the dalit colony are still to use the toilets, citing various reasons. Another four are yet to construct a toilet. Jayamma’s work is not over yet, but a critical breakthrough has been made.