heroes of change

Common Problem, Uncommon Solution

By Shaili Jaisti/WAI

A village in the interiors of Raichur district of Karnataka came up with an innovative idea to become open defecation- free – negotiating space constraints in the village, the community built personal toilets collectively in a block for comfort, safety and dignity.

For women, to defecate in the open clearly means a compromise on their safety, which is the utmost compromise one can make,” exclaims 50-year-old Shantamma, a resident of Chikkavadlur village in Raichur district, Karnataka.

Shantamma, a mother of two adolescent children has been living in Chikkavadlur village for the last three decades. While her husband is a daily wage labourer at a construction site, Shantamma works as a farmer in the cotton fields in order to fulfil the family’s needs.

As a young bride, Shantamma faced a lot of fear and anxiety when she had to go out in the open to relieve herself. She recollected the harsh times when she had to wait uncomfortably till it was dark to step out of her house to defecate. All the women of the village had earmarked a designated site for open defecation which meant long walks, be it during the day or night! And when any man used to pass by that area, the women would immediately get up from their squatting position and hide, only to avoid any kind of attention. Although Shantamma had become accustomed to this scenario over the years, yet she feared for the safety of her daughter each time she stepped outside.

Chikkavadlur village comprises of over 40 households with a population of over 200. Apart from two to three households, the entire village practiced open defecation. The village, located in a very interior setting, witnessed major challenges when it came to accessing decent toilets.

For years, the government persuaded the community members to construct toilets, however, the villagers refrained due to various superstitions. As WaterAid and its partner organizations came along, gradual steps were taken to bring about a change in the behaviour of the community members towards not only constructing toilets but diligently using them as well. Shantamma, who supported the cause very strongly, stepped forward to support and disseminate the much required message across the village.

The Community led Total Sanitation Campaign soon paced up and saw the participation of community mobilizers from within the village. They held door-to-door visits to discuss the need for toilets. Short films and videos were screened and the villagers started to assemble, to take the discussions forward. Even though the community was partially convinced to construct toilets, there were still some practical implications to deal with.

What came as a huge challenge was the lack of space around each house to construct a toilet. As the community discussed various other options, they came up with a plan to construct toilets a little away from their houses, on the adjacent open compound. These would not function as community toilets which are to be maintained by an external authority, but would be assigned to each household making them as good as personal toilets.

toilets constructed

A view of the toilets constructed for each household after the intervention

The innovative idea was appreciated by the community members as well as the government authorities and in due course 43 toilets were constructed, equivalent to the number of households in the village. These toilets constructed at a common spot were equipped with regular water supply as well as an electricity connection. Every household in the village now had their own personal toilet with the facility to lock it and use it whenever necessary.

In order to promote the usage of the toilets as well as to maintain the infrastructure, various information, education and communication activities are regularly held in the village.

“I am glad that I have been a part of this initiative. It was much required. Women need to be given respect, and we have achieved that with the help of these personal toilets constructed in a group. At least there is no fear when a girl or a woman steps out to defecate,” shares much relieved Shantamma.

With the community led toilet plan working well for the residents of Chikkavadlur village, they are now determined to improve other water, sanitation and hygiene issues. One of them on the agenda is to tackle the poor drainage infrastructure of the village which practically becomes ineffective during the monsoons. With no proper outlet for the rainwater to drain out, water stagnates in and around the village premises leading to various health issues and unhygienic surroundings. The community now aims to address this issue at the earliest.