Published: 02nd October 2019
Swachh Karnataka: These students helped build 1425 toilets in Chikodi to kill open defecation
Vimala Kadam, along with her friends, were mentored by Deshpande Foundation under the LEAD programme and helped build over 1,425 toilets in rural areas of North Karnataka
While people might deny the fact that open defecation still exists in Karnataka, its rural parts will tell you a different story. To combat this menace in the rural areas, a project to build toilets was undertaken by students of A A Patil Arts And Commerce College For Women Vimala Kadam, Sowjanya Pattankudi, Deepika Lokare, Deepali Bhosale and their teacher Jayshree Nagaralli. Not one or two, they convinced the villagers around Chikodi taluk and worked with Panchayat Development Officers (PDO) to build more than 1,425 toilets! Even today, these students have a few more villages on their list and they aim to make Chikodi taluk free from open defecation.
Vimala, who thinks that it is their teamwork which made the project a success in villages, says, "It was in 2012 that the Deshpande Foundation approached our college with the LEAD programme and informed us about how we can build leadership skills by solving societal issues. At the same time, PM Narendra Modi launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Hence, the project that we undertook to build toilets was in sync with the government's plan. Also, this doesn't mean that the village panchayat officers did not do their duty. It was the villagers who did not agree to build toilets in their homes. They believed that having toilets inside their home, or even outside it, is not a good practice. Open defecation was prevalent in villages like Umrani, Karoshi, Hirekudi, Jainapur and many others."
Leader matters: Vimala Kadam who spreadheaded the project along with other girls in Chikodi Taluk
The first village where Vimala spearheaded the project was Jainapur. While the target set by the panchayat officials was around 940 toilets, they built only 100 of them. Narrating the reason behind this, she says, "I still remember the day when the panchayat officials were helpless, short of funds and unable to convince the villagers. My teacher Jayshree, who teaches Political Science and was in charge of the LEAD programme in our college, agreed to visit the village with me. As many as 25 girls from my college were divided into small groups and we went door-to-door to ask if the villagers had toilets at home. If we were told that they did not have one, then we would literally sit with the family members and talk."
She goes on to add, "At first, they said that there is a lot of space in the outskirts of the village which is meant for open defecation. Then, we made them understand how this leads to the spreading of diseases. These sessions were not held just once, but twice or even thrice. Even women came forward to express their problems with walking to these places in the dark and early hours in the morning. The villagers agreed to it and thus, we were able to build around 700 toilets in six months. Our objective of making the village open defecation-free was achieved."
This is not the end
As the word spread about the project, the Panchayat Development Officers of Hirekudi, Boragal, Umarani and Karoshi also called Jayshree and her students to initiate the project in their villages. The group along with the mentor for LEAD programme went on to follow the same process and built over 60 toilets in these villages. Not just building toilets or convincing villagers, Vimala and her friends went from pillar to post to get the money sanctioned by the government as well.
"When we went door-to-door, we asked the villagers certain questions and noted the details so that we could submit it to the government. We asked villagers about the measurement of their house, the number of members in their family and so on. If there was no place to build toilets in their homes, then for such families, the government allocated land close to their homes. Then, we worked along with the PDOs to help them plan the drainage system. Our day started at 9 am and it would end only at 6.30 pm," says Vimala who gets immense satisfaction from this work.
On Field: Students along with the villagers after the construction of toilets
Among all the villages that Vimala, Sowjanya and their teacher implemented the project in, the most difficult one was Umrani. According to Jayashree, it was really tough to convince the villagers there. "One day, when our girls approached a family member to talk about building toilets, a group of people, including women, expressed their anger and asked us to go back. 'We are okay with our old practices', is what we heard from them. I felt that it was high time for me to intervene and I made the villagers see that we are not cheating them. Instead, we are sacrificing our working hours in the college to travel such a long way and bring about change. The villagers were very stubborn and just did not want to understand our plan. We asked the panchayat to issue a notification that the villagers would not be getting groceries or other commodities under the BPL card if they don't build toilets. Only then, hundreds of villagers thronged the PDO's office to give their details. This is how we built over 800 toilets in Umrani."
While Vimala graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree, she still carries out this project. Her juniors also continue this work and now, they are taking the project to Bambalwad in Chikodi.