By Sujata Raghavan
Maner (Bihar), Feb. 24 (ANI): In her marital home in Maner block, Patna district, Gita Devi had constructed a toilet utilising funds made available under the Government of India programme, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), that had begun in 1999 .
The campaign was the first step towards a community-led, people-centered, demand-driven approach to rural sanitation. One of the main objectives of the programme was the elimination of open defecation to minimise risk of contamination of drinking water sources and food.
Despite having the facility of a toilet at home, all the members of the family including Gita continued to defecate in the open. The toilet would be opened up like a showpiece during special occasions such as marriages, festivals or for guests. It was another matter that family members were prone to falling sick often especially during summer and rainy months, but somehow the correlation between the practice of open defecation and recurring illness – was not made.
Years later in 2011 a programme called “Gram Varta” began as a pilot in Maner block. Literally meaning Village Dialogue, this was an intervention by the Government of Bihar, implemented under the Sector Wide Approach to Strengthening Health (SWASTH) programme with support from DFID. The programme uses the platform of women’s SHGs to conduct a series of meetings with village women- a 20- meeting cycle termed as PLA (Participatory Action and Learning).
The SHG movement in Bihar has been a widespread one, facilitated by established organisations and networks such as Women’s Development Corporation (WDC), the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project (BRLP) or Jeevilka and Mahila Samakhya – providing a viable forum for women’s collectives to engage with initiatives for their overall socio- economic empowerment.
The meetings of the PLA cycle use engaging and interactive methods such as role play and story-telling to facilitate participatory group discussions and decision-making. These are aimed at improving capacities of individuals, families and communities to provide appropriate care for pregnant women, mothers, and newborns.
The focus is on behavior change and demand generation for improved services related to Health, Nutrition and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). Messages are simple, acceptable, and consistent across various mediums including those provided by frontline health functionaries – Anganwadi workers and ASHAs working with the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
Gita who participated in Gram Varta meetings related to sanitation was in for a shock. The 16th Meeting in the PLA cycle was termed “Mapping of Open Defecation Sites” involved Social Mapping as an activity. A group of women gathered at a large open area in the village, bringing with them bright dry colours used for making a traditional rangoli. This however was a rangoli with a difference. The women first drew a wide circle with white powder to show village Shame Walk boundaries. The colour red depicted houses, green indicated fields and the colour yellow used to show where faeces lay in the open.
It was a powerful visual that left everyone aghast – the yellow was overpowering and this could only mean that the faeces were lying all around in the village! The mapping exercise also showed using a mix of yellow and red – the few households in the village having toilets.
If the 16th Meeting blew the lid of the prevalence and sites of OD in the village, the 17th Meeting took the message further. The activity undertaken was “Sharam Yatra (Shame Walk)” in which women were asked to walk to the area commonly used for defecation.
Averting their eyes and covering their noses- the women gingerly walked to the spot. It was obvious that they were repulsed but what added to their discomfiture was the painful realisation that each one of them was responsible for the ghastly sight, the foul smell, they were witnessing.
The Yatra culminated at the spot where faeces were rampant. The women used a string to depict a housefly and showed how the fly that sits on the faeces also sits on exposed food items. The complete cycle beginning with the practice of open defecation to the stage where one unknowingly consumes one’s faeces – was brought alive through in the 17th Meeting aptly called, “Understanding the Transmission Cycle from Faeces to Food”. The activity filled Gita with revulsion but also a resolve to change her own situation. She shared her new-found knowledge with her family and made a spirited attempt to enable them to change behavior patterns from open defecation to toilet usage. Gita demonstrated the essence of the PLA cycle – the crux of the Gram Varta intervention and showed how it works.
Activities in the PLA cycle are easily integrated in the SHG savings and loan programme thus adding the dimension of improved critical social indicators to its already existing one of economic empowerment of women. The intervention requires no infrastructure, nor are there costs to be paid out, beyond what is incurred in training and technical expertise. Further, Gram Varta effectively complements the work of ICDS by increasing the demand for and utilisation of services by women and community at large. The massive expansion of SHG’s under The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that the National Rural Livelihood Mission provides a ready opportunity to empower communities to seek better health and nutrition outcomes at scale and at a substantially low cost.
The views expressed in the article are of Ms. Sujata Raghavan. (ANI)