SIDDIPET, India 15 July 2016 -: The village of Ibrahimpur, in the constituency of Siddipet, Medak district, is made up of small white concrete huts with red tiled roofs, and bordered by rice fields and palm trees that give it an idyllic air. But it was not so long ago that women, feeling uncomfortable and afraid, used to sneak into these fields under the cover of grey dawn light or dusk to go to the toilet. Thanks to a UNICEF supported campaign in the district, every household in this village now has toilets, and the area has been declared Open Defecation Free by the Central Government. Women in particular have noticed the dramatic difference having a toilet has made in their lives.
"I used to feel really ashamed and shy to relieve myself on the outskirts of the fields, as I used to imagine the things that could happen to me," 25-year-old Devalatha Shaga said, whilst her son clung to her blue and red sari skirts. "Now, life is so much better! We are not falling sick. In fact, two of the medical officers that were here moved to other
villages, as we now have very few cases of sickness now."
According to the 2011 census, 68 per cent of the rural community in the state go to the toilet in the open, posing serious risks to health. However, in Ibrahimpur, an entire community changed their habits because of messages that were promoted in the district, right down to the village level. UNICEF supported the 'Intinta Paarishuddyam' ('Sanitation in Every Household') campaign that began in 2010, and included not only training of Village Heads, but also used weekly monitoring in the form of stickers on houses. This visible sign of showing which houses had toilets and which didn't was instrumental in motivating people to build their own lavatories.
"Open defecation is part of the cultural fabric. We needed to find ways to make toilets aspirational," said Salathiel Nalli, WASH Officer at UNICEF. "We need to change societal norms that require an engagement over a long period of time. Messages have to be passed at many different levels, and repeated over and over, for them to make a real
In the case of Siddipet, the campaign has had tangible results, largely due to the local and district government officials who were committed to the project, and made funds available for building toilets. The campaign has had such a wide impact that in 2012 the Indian national government sent a team from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to study the methods used.
In 2012, a campaign started to get various villages to build 100,000 toilets in 100 days.
"In fact, the campaign was a success beyond our expectations," said Sammi Reddy, the Block Development Officer of Siddipet. "We do regular checks to ensure that people's toilets are up to standards, and that they are using them."
The local government gave each family 12,000 Rupees (around $180 USD) to construct latrines, which covered the cost of concrete, pipes, and other materials needed.
Efforts were also made to involve the local community, and make sure that various village groups were responsible for their own sanitation decisions.
When Devalatha got married two years ago, she joined the Women's Self Help Group. Her husband, 28-year-old Suman Shaga, also joined the village's Youth Group. In the weekly meetings, the different groups discuss issues such as good hygiene, micro-credit, and the need for good sanitation. It was in part due to these discussions, that Suman Shaga decided to build a toilet. He realized how much shame women felt to relieve themselves in the fields.
Standing outside the small concrete shed that houses his latrine, Shaga described how he helped three labourers build the 'leach pit' toilet.' These toilets have been promoted by local government because they are easy to make, and cost-effective.
"We dug two pits and lined them with rocks," he explained. The waste goes into one pit through pipes. When it is full, Shaga will connect pipes to the other pit. In addition to the latrine, Shaga also built a soak pit to drain away kitchen, bath, and other wastewater.
Through the village Youth Group, Shaga and the other members convinced other heads of households that they also needed to have covered sanitation structures.
"Before people in the village constructed a soak pit, there used to be a water tank near the house. People used to come
and wash their clothes there, and there used to be a huge pool of waste water where mosquitoes used to breed. We really tried to convince people in the neighbourhood to construct soak pits for multiple reasons," Shaga said.
Alongside the local village groups, the traditional leaders known as 'Panchayats' were instrumental in advocating better sanitation throughout the community. The Panchayat leader in Ibraimpur is an elegant 55-year old woman, Lakshmi Yadamma Kumbala. Her family had a history of involvement in village politics.
"As a woman, I know the problems we face, and the health problems that the village faced as a whole. But now we have been officially declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) by the Government," she said. "Everyone knows about
our village and we're very proud of it."
The constituency of Siddipet was declared Open Defecation Free in 2015, thanks to the resolute efforts of the district administration and the constituency leader, Member of the Legislative Assembly, Harish Rao, who has been committed to the cause of improving sanitation. The success of the Siddipet model was a result of good collaboration between UNICEF, local government, and village leaders, and is proof that sustained campaigning on good sanitation can eventually lead to behaviour change.