Children: Agents of Change!
By- Deepa Rai
Nawalparasi, 23 January 2013- “20 minutes!” this is probably how long it would take us to go to work or take our kids to school but for Lal Kumari Kumal and Yam Maiya Kumal, this is how long it takes them to walk to a nearby forest to relieve themselves. Every single day, come rain, shine or wind, they have to rush to the forest. A toilet – something that we so often take for granted – is a luxury to them.
However, this is all going to change thanks to local children who are mobilising the community to make Tamsariya an Open Defecation Free (ODF) village. The children are playing a key role in relaying the message that having a toilet not just saves time but also saves lives and generates wealth and dignity.
The time women use to find a secluded yet safe area to defecate could instead be used to care for their children.
“During monsoon and winter seasons, we have a very tough time, being a female does not help either. We feel shy and afraid to defecate outside, but what to do,” says Yam Maiya Kumal of Tamsariya VDC in Nawalparasi.
Out of the 2,615 households in the VDC, about 20% of them still do not have toilets. Children are working as change agents to trigger and even persuade the community to build toilets and use them. Tamsariya Village Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Coordination Committee (VWASHCC) is all set to be like its neighbour, the exemplary Pragatinagar VDC which was the first VDC in Nepal to be declared ODF with the assistance of UNICEF.
The School-Led-Total-Sanitation (SLTS) programme that started in 2005 has been a major influence on Nepali communities to build toilets. The Water Supply and Sanitation Sub Divisional Office (WSSDO), with technical and financial support from UNICEF, started the SLTS programme as an effective way to reach out to the communities through school children. The Government of Nepal has a target of reaching 100 per cent sanitation by 2017.
As part of this target, the SLTS programme involves training child club members who then campaign and educate their parents and neighbours about the benefits of constructing toilets and keeping their community clean.
Nirjung Kumal is the president of a child club at Lok Sewa Higher Secondary School, a partner school of SLTS programme. Before he joined the child club, he had no clue that sanitation and dignity were linked to toilets. “Only after I started to attend child club meetings, I found out that we needed toilets, clean toilets. I persuaded my family and we have a toilet at home now. It’s been a year that we have been using it and I give the same example to the people in the village these days.”
The students have proved that they can influence their communities by applying different participatory action tools such as sanitation maps, praise walks, briefings on disease transmission, calculating medical expenses due to poor sanitation, defecation mobility, and cost comparisons between television, telephone and toilet. They have also been organising rallies, informing people with illustrations, songs and practical experiments. At one of their events, the children showed the effects of open defecation by telling the audience to drink water mixed with dirt. There was a huge uproar of laughter mixed with puzzled looks.
This was successful in making them realise how open defecation pollutes the river and the water which might eventually end up in their glass. The students then asked: “Anybody wants to drink this?" still showing the water. The silence said it all.
Principal of Lok Sewa Higher Secondary School, Chandra Dev Tiwari, sums up the effective role of children as the ideal agents of change: “Public awareness is difficult but we are seeing gradual transformation. There is a certain monetary expectation from adults but people don’t expect that from children. They are changing minds of those seeking subsidies for toilet construction. They have shown what adults have not been able to achieve. We found out that most of the houses in this village have at least one child who goes to school. They trigger their family, which in turn, triggers the entire village.”