Arpana Adhikary, the district coordinator of Swachh Bharat Mission, Barpeta district, Assam is a woman of outstanding rigour.
When men in her district failed to show interest in building toilets, she selected 22 women from Self Help Groups (SHGs) and trained them to be masons.
Arpana vociferously worked to make the district Open Defecation Free (ODF), she also initiated the Government’s movement for Solid Liquid Resource Management.
Arpana’s tireless efforts to ensure cleanliness have been backed by training sessions under the Swachh Bharat Mission. The training session, conducted by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, consist of mason training and Community Mobilisation.
While the SHG women provide with material and labour to build toilets for impoverished families, they simultaneously sell construction material to those who could afford to build their toilets.
Over the last year, the group of women has convinced families from 371 homes in Bhulukabari and Balarvitha villages to build their own toilets. This has helped the district administration save a whopping Rs. 44, 52,000.
Asked about the work of the women masons, Adhikary said that their work is at par with the work done by their male counterparts.
“Women understand the need for building toilets and overall sanitary health of their family, especially young girls. Mobilising women was easy because they were determined to ensure proper toilets for all,” she said.
Most of the women masons are Self Help Group (SHG) members, with their husbands working as daily wage labourers who work in cycle repair shops, etc.
Earlier, the women made their living by making crafts such as handmade bamboo baskets that they sold. Now they earn their daily bread and butter by building toilets, motivating others to use these toilets and sustain their efforts.
Toilet coverage in Barpeta before the start of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) campaign was less than 50%. With about 1,30,443 toilets yet to be built, the target date for making the district open defecation free is October 2018.
Similarly, women SHGs have been engaged in other parts of the district as well and they are currently focusing on CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation) approach to motivate people to construct toilets of their own.
The women make sure that each and every village becomes open defecation free and people not only construct toilets, but use them in the long run.
Here is yet another inspiring example of Bonti Saikia, president, Charaipani gram panchayat in Jorhat district of Assam. Her tireless efforts led her to be felicitated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi in Champaran, Bihar.
Owing to the dedicated efforts of Bonti Saikia, all households have access to sanitation facilities, making the panchayat open defecation free (ODF) on 2nd October, 2017, a year after the campaign was launched.
All the residents of Charaipani, which comprises of three tea gardens use their toilets, having completely stopped the practice of open defecation.
The outcome of this behaviour change is seen in the dramatic reduction of the number of diarrhoea cases that are common after monsoons each year, mainly due to poor sanitation. In fact, there were absolutely no cases of diarrhoea at the end of the monsoon in 2017, according to the district administration.
The efforts of many others like Arpana and Bonti have inspired people of Assam. They demonstrated courage, by doing everything in their power to convince authorities as well as the citizens that sanitation is of utmost importance.