P Amudha receives Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Promotion of Rural Sanitation in Tamil Nadu
by Scharada Bail
P. Amudha, an Indian Administrative Service Officer from Tamil Nadu, came to work in UNICEF in 2001 as an officer on deputation to work specifically on water and sanitation issues. The rural sanitation picture in Tamil Nadu at the time was grim – only 15 % of the population had access to a toilet. The rural sanitation coverage in Tamil Nadu increased to 40 % in 2004 from 15 % in 2001 – a mere three years after Amudha became part of the programme. In the face of such a success story, she says with a smile, “Achieving merely what is possible does not give satisfaction. Achieving the impossible is what really gives the greatest satisfaction and joy.”
“I was looking for answers to the questions ‘How can communities be empowered to tackle sanitation issues?’ and ‘What role can the State government play?’ Based on my observation of schools, panchayats, anganwadis, I understood how a campaign for sanitation could be constructed,” says Amudha. Community involvement in sanitation for health and hygiene was built through a sustained campaign that broadly addressed three major areas – health issues that arose as a result of poor sanitation, the gender impact of poor sanitation with women suffering from lack of privacy and also being burdened with additional tasks, and the economic costs imposed by poor sanitation in terms of increased disease and mortality. All these issues were highlighted through rallies by children, training of women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs) in villages, songs, street plays and other forms of mobilization at the local panchayat level. Sanitation options and available technology that would be affordable to the poorest rural household were explained by UNICEF at the district level. A sustained campaign with the participation of the community helped them stay motivated and take personal action.
“Sanitation issues have been close to the Chief Minister’s heart”, says Amudha, speaking of Dr. Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. “In fact, in 2001, she had launched ‘women’s sanitation complexes’ in different locations as a means of ensuring convenience, comfort and privacy for women. For the larger picture of rural sanitation, we needed to find the right model through which this political will could be expressed. It is in this context that the ‘Clean village campaign ‘was conceived. Communities were encouraged to become responsible for their own environment through sanitation issues.”
In February 2003, Amudha made a presentation to the Tamil Nadu Government that proposed a ‘Clean Village Award’ be presented by the Chief Minister on August 15th, every year, on the occasion of the anniversary of India gaining Independence. The Chief Minister launched the ‘Clean Village’ programme in Namakkal in July 2003. “So much had to be done to make this incentive really work to bring about change in the community”, says Amudha. “In the beginning, when I had first looked at the paucity of toilets and their disrepair or improper use in schools, I had become aware of the lack of coordination between the different government agencies. Now it was important to work as a team, not at cross purposes. At the district level orientation for the ‘Clean Village’ programme we managed to establish synergy between various Government programmes and build teams at the local level. As part of the UNICEF team, we ate, slept, lived with block level and district level workers during training, and helped to make them aware of common goals and strategy.” Presidents from model panchayats (local self government body) were invited to visit and address other villages to motivate them.
The team building approach to School Sanitation and Hygiene Education began to pay dividends. Through school level demos of Hand Washing, the ill effects of Open Defecation, Chlorination of Water, and the nutritive value of Iodized Salt, this initiative was able to impact the larger community. When all school going children brought a sample of the salt they used at home for testing, it was possible to get a baseline value of iodized and non-iodized salt in use among families. This could help form strategies for the campaign to switch to iodized salt. Islands of excellence began to emerge among schools and villages in response to the rewards being given to schools and communities that ranked high on hygiene and sanitation. A grading system was worked out to evaluate the best school in terms of hygiene and sanitation. Teachers and students began to vie with other schools to get more points!
“Success stories were documented and presented for a larger audience through the television. From June to October 2004, every Tuesday and Friday, local TV telecast success stories that showed the transformation that communities had achieved in the area of sanitation and community hygiene,” says Amudha. As a keen photographer, and a committed worker who was determined that the objectives and values of the programme should not be diluted, she supervised the editing of these programmes, viewing many hours of raw footage. A regular newsletter highlighting success stories was brought out regularly at the state level with the support of UNICEF.
With so much dedication and teamwork at every level, it was hardly surprising that the partnership between UNICEF and the State Government resulted in the rural sanitation coverage in Tamil Nadu going up to 40 % in 2004 from 15 % in 2001 – a mere three years after Amudha became part of the programme. In the face of such a success story, she says with a smile, “Achieving merely what is possible does not give satisfaction. Achieving the impossible is what really gives the greatest satisfaction and joy.”
Since Tamil Nadu had shown such progress on the sanitation and hygiene index, the Government of India instituted incentive awards on the lines of ‘Clean Village’ at the national level in the form of the ‘Nirmal Gram Puraskar’ to be awarded by the President of India. Among the thirty-nine villages awarded in 2004, thirteen were from Tamil Nadu.
Amudha is now engaged in working on sanitation issues at the national level with UNICEF.