Girls lead the village on a clean path

Girls lead the village on a clean path

The manner in which Sinchana and Deekshita, two school students, inspired their?village to become Open Defecation Free would have made Mahatma Gandhi proud.

The seeds of this effort were sown back in 2016, when Government Higher Primary School in Nagawara village in Ramanagara district got its first set of toilets built under Project ABCD, an initiative of Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) in support of Swachh Bharat Mission.?

In the school, students were told the importance of maintaining?good hygiene and were taught how to use the toilet, in addition to being shown how to maintain it. “We taught the students how to maintain the toilets themselves. This served two purposes: the toilets remained clean and it also broke the caste stigma,” says a volunteer of?Sneha NGO, TKM’s implementing partner.??

For many students, the situation at home was different: many families believed it was impure to have toilets inside the house. In some houses, the newly-built toilets were being used to store grains or other items.

Sinchana, then in Class 6, and her sister were staying at their grandmother’s home, which did not have a toilet. Neither did the house of her classmate Deekshita have one. These girls, like many others in their village, had to go to nearby fields to attend nature’s call. Fear would grip them whenever they stepped out to relieve themselves: fear of insects, animals and of being seen by others.

Now, aware of the difference a toilet can bring in their lives, Sinchana and Deekshita kept asking for a toilet to be built but both their families kept putting it off saying, they cannot afford it.?

The girls were tired of their families’ lackadaisical attitude. After discussing the issue at school, Deekshita concluded that just pleading will not work and decided to take a tougher stand. She decided to go on a hunger strike – after all her dignity was at stake. In solidarity, even Sinchana decided to fast until a toilet got built.

The two girls refused to go to school as well. Taking a cue, 30 other students from Classes 5 to 7 also refused to go to school until a toilet was built at their homes. The students, who went on a dharna, found support in their teachers. The teachers weren’t mad at their students for missing school; instead they were proud that their students were taking a stand on an important social issue.?

Forced to yield to their children’s demands, the families made arrangements for the money and began construction of the toilets.

“We never had sanitation facility at home, so we?didn't know the advantages of having one. We got a toilet constructed due to the insistence of our children. Now, we are experiencing the huge difference a toilet can bring about in a person’s life,” says a parent.?

Project ABCD, started in 2015,?has seen several such inspiring community-driven efforts as it covered 1004 schools in 92 villages?and has impacted the lives of over 58,000 school children. As a result of the project and the efforts of the children, a total 13,518 household toilets?have been constructed and all the children have 100% sanitation facilities at their homes. One important outcome of this initiative is that the girl child missing school hours has come down to zero in Ramanagara district.

“The aim of Project ABCD is to bring about ‘A Behavioural Change through Demonstration’. The Covid-19 pandemic has further reinforced the importance of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene practices and now we intend to expand our project to a higher level of hygiene activities, so that such practices become incorporated into people’s way of life,” says Vikram Gulati, Senior Vice President, Toyota Kirloskar Motor.?

With a ‘functional’ toilet at their homes, the girls are now working towards achieving bigger goals. Deekshita wants to become a Kannada teacher, Sinchana a doctor and her sister a lawyer. Their families couldn’t have been happier.

 
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