Friday, 8 August 2008

Youth script hygiene story in MP villages

Annu Anand
Sehore, Madhya Pradesh

The innocence writ large on Arun's face and the naughty sparkle in his eyes make it hard for anyone to believe that he is involved in the development of his village. Oblivious to the presence of a stranger, sitting on a small platform in the middle of the village, he checks nails of children with utmost concentration. When confronted with the question, "have you clipped your nails?" he raises his head and shows both his hands in a matter-of-fact manner and returns to his work. Ten-year-old Arun Mewada is member of the Azad Bal Vikas Samiti, a group responsible for ensuring personal hygiene of children in the village.

Dheeraj and Hirdeysh are busy taking children to a polio booth as it is a polio vaccination day in the village. Pramod is busy filling the cleanliness graph painted outside every house with chalk. These charts show if the drain, the road outside the house and the toilet inside are clean.

This is the scenario in Rajukhdi village, just about 45 kilometres from Bhopal. It is among 10 villages in Sehore district where community participation has improved sanitation and hygiene awareness, contributing to the overall development of these villages.

Just three years back, these villages were facing water shortage and had high incidences of water-borne diseases due to lack of proper sanitation. Most of the people were relieving themselves in the open. In particular, women faced a lot of hardship. Children didn't know anything about personal hygiene. Due to the absence of any checks by villagers, school and health services were also not running properly.

In 2005, a Bhopal-based voluntary body, Samarthan, started a Water and Sanitation
Project in 10 villages of Sehore block with financial aid from the UK-based agency, Water Aid. Each family was provided Rs 500 for the construction of a toilet in their houses. The rest of the cost, Rs 2,000, was borne by the families concerned themselves. Villagers also put in their labour for construction of toilets and water resource structures.
Connected to the district headquarter at Sehore by a four-kilometre kutcha road, Rajukhedi village has nearly 80 households belonging to backward classes and eight to the Scheduled Castes. Most of the villagers work as farm workers. Nearly all the houses are kutcha and roads are not paved, yet village streets are clean and rows of houses in a street appear neatly organised.

All the houses in the village have proper sanitation facilities. There is a pipe running outside every house for the disposal of sewage. This pipe is connected to a soak pit constructed outside every house. The pits are covered with a filter made out of old gunny bags.
"To prevent groundwater level in the village from receding, used water from houses is directed to the soak pit for recharging the groundwater," points out Sarpanch Chandan Singh.

In addition, some water conservation structures such as 'check dams' and 'stop dams' have been constructed with Rs 36,000 financial aid from the government. Villagers have constructed these structures themselves. They have also installed four hand pumps and constructed four platforms for washing clothes.

Promodh, a member of Bal Samooh, which is responsible for overseeing cleanliness of these facilities informs that nobody is allowed to wash clothes under a hand pump as it leads to wastage of water and messes up the area around the pump.

In 21 houses, Rainwater harvesting structures have been constructed with the contribution of Rs 10,000 from the community. Chandan Singh says, "three years ago, water and sanitation were primary problems in the village. When the cleanliness and sanitation drive started in the village, villagers contributed money as well as their labour making this drive successful."

Children, women and youth of the village all are participating in this initiative through different committees formed to monitor the project. Children from five to 12 years have formed Bal Samoohs. They also ensure proper functioning of hand pumps and cleanliness of washing platform as well as housesThe youth group called Yuva Vikas Mandal takes care of supply of water and other public facilities.

Empowered by their participation in this project, the youth group also sought to end problems faced by the villagers in accessing other basic amenities like education and health. Dharma Prakash, a member, informs, "for many years the village's primary school used to open for only two hours as the teacher, who used to live in Bhopal, could reach the school only at noon. We complained about this many-a-times, but there was no action. Then we locked the school one day, and warned the teacher that if the school does not open on time, it would be closed down." After this, the teacher shifted to Sehore.

Similarly, when information was sought about postal delays under the Right to Information Act, it was found that the postman was not regularly picking up letters from the village letterbox. Following a complaint, the situation has now been rectified.
The water and sanitation committees runs a 'information centres', which provides information about all the government schemes being implemented in the village.

About eight kilometres from Sehore is a village called Manpura. Three years before the village had acute water problem as the water level of the village well went down too low. It could be used only few months in a year. To overcome the shortage of water, an integrated approach to water supply, sanitation and hygiene was adapted under the Water and sanitation project. The community has been able to mobilise funds from the government as well as from amongst themselves.
Under this strategy, the Village Water Sanitation Committee(VWSC) planned to conserve rainwater through rooftop harvesting. So, rainwater harvesting structures were constructed in all the 60 houses of the village. Water thus collected is diverted for recharging the well as well as supply to houses through pipelines. A tank of 20,000-litre capacity was also constructed at the cost of Rs 2.36 lakh, contributed by both villagers and the government. This tank gets water from a bore-well located near the village through a pipeline.

Hari Narayan Chourasia, a member of village water and sanitation committee, says, "now we are able to run eight public water taps through pipes connected to this tank. We charge Rs 10 per family per month for utilising this water. The committee is also giving connection to individual houses for Rs 30 per month. This supply is for four hours a day."
Dashrath, who is in-charge of the mid-day meal scheme in the village school, says that water in the well used to earlier last only till December, but now it is available for longer periods. "We used to bring water on our bullock carts from places far away from the village. Now we have learnt to conserve water, so there is no shortage," says Pintu, member of the water and sanitation committee, pointing to a rooftop water harvesting structure.

Manpura also boasts of having toilets in all the 60 houses of the village. Village committee maintains these structures through youth clubs formed in the village. In
March 2006, this village also got the state award for achieving the total sanitation target.
According to Shafiq, the district coordinator of Samarthan, "the reason for the success of the project in 10villages including Rajukhdi, Manpura and Jahangirpura is community participation. We are trying to inculcate participatory processes in the planning, execution and monitoring of community and sanitation initiative. Under the project we build the capacity of panchayats to plan and execute sustainable water and sanitation management initiatives. So no decision is taken without the participation of the Panchayat Samiti."

Lakhan singh, a community coordinator of Samarthan, says every scheme is being discussed in the panchayat meetings. Schemes are implemented with the consent of all village committees and the gram sabha. Panchyats of these villages are still a focal point for decision-making on any development project. As the sarpanch of Rajukhdi village Chandan Singh notes, "in this village, the chaupal is a parliament of the people. All the decisions are taken there."

The implementation of this community project has changed the lives of these villagers. It has also contributed to the improvement of other development works. After seeing the success of the water and sanitation scheme, other villages of the district also want to replicate it, adds Shafiq.

1 comment:

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