By Vidya Kulkarni
The half an hour journey through dry terrains and bumpy roads to Sakhara village proves quite refreshing. It is more so, because of the local women whose determined efforts have changed the face of the village and brought an honor to it.
Remotely located Sakhara, with barely 72 households of adivasi Gond community, falls in Pandharkawada block in Yeotmal district. Recently this village has earned recognition in the district, which even the more prosperous villages yearn for. In November 2005, Sakhara received an award as the first ‘open defecation free’ village in the block from the State Government of Maharashtra. This improved status and subsequent appreciation of the village is an outcome of ingenuous efforts of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) of local women.
Sakhara received an award as the first ‘open defecation free’ village in the block from the State Government of Maharashtra.
Sakhara had four active SHGs formed in 2001, when UNICEF began to work with the community. The village planning exercise initiated by UNICEF was able to equip women with knowledge on diverse and critical issues pertaining to their lives. The intervention, which is based on empowering communities, energized the women to bring about a dramatic and positive change in their lives.
Today, each and every household is represented in these groups. The groups are not merely restricted to savings and credit activity, but have also become forums of women for learning and action. ‘Our groups have changed us and made progress possible,’ expresses Kusum Kumbare, one of the SHG members, on the meaningful existence of groups to women’s lives.
The remarkable changes set off by these women present a wide range of concerns. There is no child in the village that remains out of school - these vigilant women ensure proper functioning of school and Aangan Wadi Centre. The SHGs have strived to impose total ban on liquor in the village. They have also contributed in improving the village approach road. The latest achievement is attaining the total sanitation goal.
Even the poor households have put up a makeshift toilet within their tiny budget.
The SHG women decided to take up the cause of clean and open-defecation free village in April 2005. They chalked out a plan of action. Initially each group contributed Rs. 500 and the total amount of Rs. 2000 was utilized as working capital to purchase basic materials to construct toilets. The group also provided speedy credit to its members willing to build toilets.
Provision of funds, however, is only one aspect of building toilets in a rural community habituated to use open spaces. Achieving total sanitation called for a change in the mindset of people. Continuous interactions and personal visits by women helped to reinforce the wider benefits of the work they had taken up.
Another interesting fact in this village is that almost 60 households already had toilets which were constructed in the year 2000 under a government scheme. But most were inadequately constructed and used as storage or bath rooms. The villagers got these toilets repaired and brought them in proper use. Even the poor households have put up a makeshift toilet within their tiny budget. The expense for construction per toilet range from Rs. 300 to Rs. 1500.
The SHG women understand that any behavioral change is even more difficult to sustain than to initiate. Therefore they evolved a system of community monitoring to ensure that the toilets are being used and maintained well. The women frequently visited houses to ensure proper usage and maintenance of toilets. They also appointed a village senior for two months to watch and warn people against open defecation.
All these efforts, together with the determination and persistence of the steadfast SHGs, have led to make Sakhara a village free of open defecation.