GADRI, Jharkhand, India, 27 February 2014- The tribal community of Gadri in Jharkhand, like more than 620 million Indians, only few months back, defecated in the open and were often plagued by diseases linked to unsafe hygiene and sanitation.
Jharkhand has the highest rate of open defecation in India, with only 7.7 percent of the households having toilets in rural areas. Unsurprisingly, the state has the second highest rate of malnutrition in India with 55 per cent of its children malnourished.
Thanks to the diligence and faith of Sanika Oraon, the mukhiya (head) of Gadri village in Jharkhand and volunteers like Sunita Oraon with support from Jharkhand Government and UNICEF, Gadri has become the first Open Defecation Free village in Jharkhand.
This is a very important step towards a clean and free of open defecation state.
The tribal community of Gadri who like 620 million Indians, only some months back, defecated in the open and were often plagued by diseases linked to unsafe hygiene and sanitation that costs Jharkhand 4-5 percent of its GDP , approximately Rs 5,000 crore every year.
Jharkhand has the highest rate of open defecation in India, with only 7.7 percent of the households having toilets in rural areas.
Unsurprisingly, the state has the second highest rate of malnutrition in India with 55 per cent of its children malnourished
A new beginning
An open defecation free Gadri would have been unthinkable few years back when most of the inhabitants defecated in the open and inhabitants failed to recognize the link between unsanitary practices, open defecation and diseases.
Revisiting the past, Oraon says that after the state's Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) to provide toilets failed, villagers were very sceptical about the project and found it difficult to trust it.
“The work of providing toilets in 70 households has been anything but easy. In order to implement an idea and bring change, one must be convinced about the concept himself”, says Oraon.
This change in his thinking and that of other community members was brought about by the campaign by the members of Action for Community Empowerment (ACE), a partner NGO of UNICEF, which convinced Oraon about the project.
The NGO did a survey and through its grassroot volunteers and officials explained the linkage between faecal contamination and diarrhoea, malaria, poor maternal health, anaemia and malnutrition in children.
As understanding of the issue seeped in, the villagers’ attitude started changing slowly, and this had an impact on their behaviour.
Dream of an ODF village takes shape
Oraon, along with the rest of Gadri's 450 villagers, discussed the pros and cons of implementing the sanitation scheme and then agreed upon the idea of constructing toilets.
After gathering the support of the community members to achieve the ODF status, Oraon worked out the total cost of construction of toilets for every household to be around Rs. 4,90,000.
Community involvement the key to success
Sunita Orain, a Jal Sahiya or female grassroots worker, feels that the role of village level motivators and monitors is crucial for the sustainability of the scheme.
“We live here, so we understand the difficulties people have endured due to the absence of toilets. It is not only a question of dignity. We explain how lack of toilets will impact their health and subsequently their livelihood and productivity.
After achieving ODF status, we applied for the incentive of a water pipeline in the village,” says Sunita, who is also a treasurer of the Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC).
Revolving Fund policy bearing results
In the initial stages, the role of the facilitating NGO, supported by UNICEF, is critical in guiding and motivating the panchayats—first, to mobilise the community, and thereafter to mobilise funds to achieve total sanitation coverage and use.
The provision of accessing the Revolving Fund is a key innovation in the programme which has borne positive results. The community, with the help of the mukhiya, calculates the total cost of toilet construction to make the village ODF and then, the villagers contribute to supplement the amount received through revolving funds and mobilises the entire amount required for attaining ODF status.
Working together reaped fruits
The behavioural and attitudinal change that is often mentioned is best captured in the words of 36-year-old Diwanti Orain who says that she saves a lot of time now that her toilet is not far from home.
“We should have made toilets years ago. Life would have been so much easier then”. Jhampa Orain, her friend who works in the field by her side, agrees. “It's also much safer for us now that we don't have to venture out to relieve ourselves only in the dark. That fear, that someone from the village may spot us is also gone. It's truly convenient,” Jhampa smiles.
As for the quality of life in the model village of Gadri, it has considerably improved for the tribal community.
The Drinking Water and Sanitation Department has agreed on the installation on a Mini Piped Water Supply scheme which will provide tap connections to every household in the village—an incentive of the sanitation scheme.
As news of Gadri’s success story spreads, more and more panchayats are opting for this programme. Hutar village, which is 45 kilometres from Ranchi and comes under the aegis of Harihapur Jamtoli panchayat, for instance, has recently achieved the ODF status and 55-year-old Shivni Bhaktain is mighty proud of it.
“I am glad we don't have to go to the jungle anymore for defecating,” she mumbles.
Over the next six months, 20 more villages in Jharkhand are expected to be declared ODF, NGO officials estimate.