TUMAKURU, India, 08 March 2016- What could a 15-year-old want so much that she refused to eat food in protest? If your guess is, a piece of expensive clothing or accessory—like many other teenagers usually fancy—you couldn’t be more wrong. Lavanya, a hardworking ninth grader in school, staged a 48-hour hunger protest to demand a toilet in her home! Her insistence caused a mini revolution in her village, in the Sira Taluk of Karnataka, resulting in not just a toilet being built at her home, but also in inspiring others in the community to get one.
“I was upset with my parents and did not eat for two days because they refused to construct a toilet,” she later said with a smile.
Lavanya’s do-or-die attitude is a reflection of her understanding about the importance of using a toilet, and how good hygiene and sanitation practices is the pathway to good health.
Just like everyone else in the village, the teenager too used to rush to the open fields to answer nature’s call. A perfectly normal, biological process was a source of everyday embarrassment as she would try to defecate without being seen by anyone, or be constantly scared of being bitten by snakes.
An awareness campaign on the Swachh Bharat Mission conducted in Sira, however, changed her perception. As she listened to her teachers asserting the importance of sanitation and hygiene and used the toilet in her school, Lavanya realized the importance of having one at home too.
However, her request was not met with approval immediately by her family. Lavanya’s father said that they did not have enough money to construct a latrine even though the government was providing money to build toilets. But everything changed after Lavanya’s protest. With help from the Gram Panchayat, a toilet was finally constructed outside her home.
“Our daughter has taught us a valuable lesson and I am proud to be her mother,” confessed Bagyamma, her mother.
Beaming with pride, the teenager added, “My mother and sister also feel safe to use the toilets as they do not have to waste time travelling to the fields to defecate.”
Lavanya’s tale inspired many of her classmates as well. Understanding the importance of using a toilet, 11 girls stepped up the pressure at their homes. Several of her neighbours also constructed toilets with the help of the Gram Panchayat.
“We built toilets immediately after Lavanya’s parents constructed theirs,” said Sujatha, her classmate.
Lavanya, who was already hailed as the superstar of her taluk (administrative division) for being a hardworking and sincere student, was now even more popular for heralding change in every sense of the word. As her success story began to be narrated everywhere in the Tumakuru district, the CEO of the district, B. R. Mamatha said, “Young girls like her (Lavanya) can influence other villagers. She will be our brand ambassador to make Tumakuru ODF.”
The young girl now dreams of becoming a teacher one day and take forward her spirit to bring change in scores of other lives.