Toilets for All:  A Village Transformed



Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Ratanpur, Bihar

“Our family doesn’t go outside anymore,” declares Somaru, a Ratanpur Village man in his mid-fifty’s. His family received a government built toilet near their home in 2017. That same year, neighbouring households got their own toilets, too, and Ratanpur was declared an ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF) village.

Somaru relates that the toilet construction program started “when Amma’s institution came and built our toilets.” This encouraged village head, Gram Mukhiya, to support Amrita SeRVe village coordinator, Nand Kishor, in attaining a grant from Swatchh Bharat officials for toilets for the 90+ Musahar families, most of whom are living below the poverty line.

Indeed, in 2016, AMMACHI Labs constructed six community toilets: two for 24 people and another four for 55 people. Speaking on behalf of the rest of the community, Nand Kishor succeeded in gaining the necessary support for enough toilets for the entire village. After the toilets were built, celebrations were held in the nearby village of Hadiyabad, which also received ODF status on the 15th of June.

Health worker and current Ratanpur village coordinator, Urmila Devi, recalls how the lack of hygiene and general unsanitary condition of the village directly affected the mindset of the villagers. She observed that when clean-up, health awareness and toilet use awareness sessions were conducted, the village atmosphere completely transformed. Urmila further reminds that access to toilets reduces waterborne illnesses such as diarrhoea, which can be fatal for children under five years of age.

Speaking at the ODF event, Hadiyabad AMMACHI Labs facilitator, Renu Singh, emphasised that women feel safer, especially at night, as there is no longer a need to go to isolated areas. Along with this, the cleaner environment and subsequent decrease in disease comes as a huge relief to the community.

The changes in behavioral habits required substantial effort and encouragement. Credit goes to the Hadiyabad and Ratanpur Amrita staff team, which went house-to-house speaking to families, conducting public meetings and gathering Self Help Group (SHG) women for health awareness sessions.

When the toilets were built, AMMACHI Labs facilitator, Mausam Devi, took responsibility for instructing how to use them. “We taught the residents how to use the toilet and how to sit,” she says. “Now there are 100% toilets in the village and 75% of the villagers are using them.”

Cleanliness habits were also addressed. Usha Devi, AMMACHI Labs community organiser, relates that the overall cleanliness has improved a lot. “Earlier, people used to defecate outside, but after we went house-to-house showing awareness videos, they stopped going out. Now everyone uses the toilet in their home.”

The high point of the process was when the construction program really got wind under the wings: “The women and girls who hardly ever left their homes now came out to build toilets with us,” Mausam Devi concludes.

June 15th 2017: Welcoming the guests of honors. A public meeting included the District Collector, the District Deputy Commissioner, the Head of Swachh Bharat, the Block Development Officer, the Block Education Officer, the Panchayat Sarpanch, Amrita University students, and the Amrita SeRVe team in Bihar.

*Open Defecation Free definition by the Ministry of Water and Sanitation: ODF is the termination of faecal-oral transmission, defined by a) no visible faeces found in the environment/village b) every household as well as public/community institutions using [a]  safe technology option for disposal of faeces.

{A] safe technology option means no contamination of surface soil, ground water or surface water; excreta inaccessible to flies or animals; no handling of fresh excreta; and freedom from odour and unsightly condition.

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