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Where Children Lead the Sanitation Drive
" A young boy pours water after using the aanganwadi toilet in Bastar's Kumharpara "

Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh : The schools in Markamtola village in Rajnandgaon district of Chattisgarh have a unique feature. In addition to the attendance roster kept by the teachers, they also maintain a sanitation register. This ingenious book keeps track of the children’s personal hygiene habits, whether nails have been clipped, clothes are clean, hair is properly cut and combed, washing of hands after toilet use and before eating and – finally- toilet use itself.

As an integral part of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), being implemented in the state under the auspices of the Ministry of Rural Development’s Drinking Water Supply Department, schools have been identified as the entry point to sanitation awareness.

Children are more open to new ideas and they carry home important messages on personal hygiene and cleanliness to their parents, observes Mr B R Marai, Headmaster of the Primary school. “At the start of the school session in July 2006, we introduced latrine use among the children. At first, they were scared and hesitant to use the toilets but we encouraged them, at the same time teaching them of the importance of wearing clean clothes which would keep flies away”, he elaborates.

As mid-day meals are provided free for primary level children, they were taught to wash their hands before and after eating. “Every Wednesday, their nails are inspected and clipped because, as we emphasise, dirty nails are the prime source of illness and disease’, Mr Marai adds.

Kiran Kumari, 10 years, like her peers feared she would slip and fall into the latrine. But with time and the patience displayed by her teachers, using the school toilet became a routine ritual. “I have been using the toilet regularly now for one and a half years”, she states proudly. Others like Kumlal Sahu, 12, of the middle school, were slower to start, especially as he did not have a latrine at home. “I told my father repeatedly to get a latrine constructed outside our house, but it was only when ‘Guruji’ intervened and spoke to my father than he agreed to have it installed’, says the young boy.

In this sense, notes Mr Baindas Sahu, Headmaster of the middle school, children are positive agents of change as they can break down the mindsets of their parents. “Children do not always listen to their parents, but they have great respect for their ‘Guruji’ who can do no wrong and so they pass on our message. In some cases like that of Kumlal’s father, we give the added push by meeting the parent concerned and convince them”, he remarks. In addition, monthly meetings are held with parents of both schools at which issues like personal hygiene, safe drinking water practices and toilet hygiene are discussed.

At Pandadah village, 48 km away from Rajnandgaon, a similar school-centred approach to the TSC can be seen. In both Markamtola and Pandadah villages, both recipients of this year’s Nirmal Gram Puruskar, the role of women’s self help groups (SHGs) and the “Metanin” (female health worker) has been crucial for the success of the total sanitation objective.
‘Tough’ is a mild word to describe the hurdles faced by Ms Rashida Khan, Metanin at Pandadah, in promoting indoor toilet use. “Nobody was willing to listen, they grumbled that toilets within the vicinity of the home were the reasons for spread of diseases and not open air defecation’, she recollects. “I, alongwith members of the SHG made countless door-to-door visits to sensitise the villagers. At one point, we even took to snatching their ‘lotas’ (water pots) to force them to use their latrines”, she adds humorously. The women found an unlikely supporter in ‘Kotwar’ (watchman) Baisakhulal. “The roads outside were so dirty that even buses would avoid this route”, he says in exasperation. “What can I say, people jeered at me wondering that I had nothing better to do than talk of such matters. But pride in my village made me ignore their taunts and keep after them till we could all proudly claim to become a Nirmal gram village”.
The efforts in both villages were supplemented by the dynamic leadership of the Sarpanches. In Markamtola, the woman Sarpanch Bhubaneswari Devangan has been at the forefront from the very start of the campaign. “Even when we brought the material for construction of the latrines, people would refuse to identify the place for putting them. But we persevered, organising rallies and holding panchayat meetings until the message seeped in”, says an animated Sarpanch. Not one to let her guard down, even today Bhubaneswari conducts random checks in houses to see that they are used and kept clean.

 According to Mr J K Sharma, Executive Engineer, Public Health Engineering Dept. (PHED), Rajnandgaon, the total cost of the programme in his district is Rs 20 crore (US$ 20 million), of which 15 per cent or is allocated for IEC activities. “The cost of the latrine has also been lowered to Rs. 625, of which Rs. 500 is subsidy and Rs. 125 to be contributed by families living below the poverty line (BPL)”, he informs. “For families above the poverty line (APL), the cost is Rs 1500 of which the beneficiaries pay Rs 600”.

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