In many regions of India, Open Defecation is still perceived to be an acceptable and harmless practice. Unlike skill development or micro irrigation, sanitation is not seen as an investment which would create revenue. Therefore, making people see it as an uncompromising necessity presents a huge challenge - particularly when there is a deep rooted belief that toilet construction is a costly affair.
So how do we change these beliefs and ultimately, change behaviour? ACF decided to target a different audience.
In Darlaghat (Himachal Pradesh) in 2012, ACF elicited the support of young children from the community by making them responsible to ensure an open defecation free village. Known as 'Swachata Doots' (Messengers of Cleanliness), these children spread the message by playing a key role in changing the mindset of people and spreading the message of hygiene and cleanliness.
Swachata Doots are children above the age of 13 years who are vocal and well accepted in their villages. They are the ones who represent the village, have knowledge of government schemes and have a good rapport with the community.
One such example is from Nouni village in Darlaghat where Swachata Doots have been working closely with ACF's Sakhis and other aanganwadi workers with the aim to change the behavioral habits of the villages. The biggest challenge faced was the irresponsible use of deep set wells around which people would wash clothes, bathe, clean animals and dump waste. All efforts by the Sakhis in conducting camps, rallies and displaying posters about health hazards with polluted water were initially laid to waste. However, it was the untiring efforts of the Swachata Doots that the initiative finally yielded results.
Lack of sanitation in schools is one of the major causes of school dropouts, especially girls. ACF promoted school sanitation by forming vigilance committees of school children, creating awareness on improved sanitation practices and regular follow-ups. 180 schools have been covered under the school sanitation programme with new toilets built in 92 schools and old ones repaired in 88 schools.
In schools, apart from toilet construction and repair, there was a strong emphasis on maintenance. In Chandrapur, school children from government schools have established an innovative model to manage maintainence. Along with their teachers and parents, they have set up vegetable and flower gardens in schools. They sell the produce in local markets and part of the returns is used for maintaining toilets in schools.
ACF continues to facilitate and support the efforts of Swachata Doots. In the last few years with consistent efforts from the children, villagers have become more responsible in maintaining cleanliness in their houses and at public spaces. They proactively came forward to clean their surroundings, which was done earlier only by the Swacchta Doots and Sakhis.
Ambuja Cement Foundation has helped 131 villages become Open Defection Free as part of its endeavors to build healthier and prosperous rural communities in India.
Read more about the ways in which ACF supports infrastructure in schools, here