By Philippa Lysaght
NAGPUR, India, 7 March 2016 – Meet the latest member of Team Swachh, a new movement to encourage the use of toilets in India. Vallaja Vasant Zunnake is from Chandrapur, in central India. We caught up with her at a Team Swachh clinic, where she was among a group of sanitation champions who joined Indian cricketers supporting the movement. She told us about the work she has been doing to get people in her family and community to start using toilets.
Vallaja knows the importance of toilets, through the sanitation education she has received. In India, around half the population – 564 million people – don’t use toilets; they go out in the open. When people don’t use toilets, children fall ill. Exposure to human waste causes diseases like diarrhoea, which can be deadly. Every day almost 400 children under the age of 5 die from diarrhoea, in India.
So Vallaja set out on a mission: to convince her parents to build a toilet in their home. Her father was interested, so Vallaja took her mission one step further. She rallied the support of her friends and teachers to make him promise.
“We will use that toilet every day because I know what happens when we defecate out in the open,” she says. “All those germs are not good for our health, and I know it all.”
Cricket and a cleaner India
The Team Swachh campaign is part of the International Cricket Council and UNICEF’s partnership Cricket for Good. Team Swachh’s start of play is during the T20 Cricket World Cup, and the pitch is India. The movement brings together all members of Indian society to work as a giant team to ensure everyone uses a toilet. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar captains the team. The goal is to end open defecation by 2019.
> Learn more: How do I join the team?
Clinics like the one where we met Vallaja are helping mobilize the champions who are the driving force behind a cleaner India. At this water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) clinic in Nagpur, the children played games with cricketers and learned more about the importance of toilets and hygiene. Vallaja met one of her cricket heroes – Umesh Yadav. “We played the Germs Game with him in the end, and we said that no one should defecate out in the open.”
All over the country, the growing membership of Team Swachh is promoting the use of toilets at home and in the community. Children like Vallaja are leading the way to the change that will bring a brighter and cleaner future.