The thick bushes of Shantinagar village near Bhopal with more than 150 houses were known for providing a hiding place to the villagers to relieve themselves, as many households did not have toilets.
However, open defecation has become a thing of the past in the village which has 77 toilets today, owing to the efforts of 20-year-old Pooja Ahirwar.
The woman, called ‘sanitation champion’, formed a committee that prevents villagers from relieving themselves in the open.
Pooja says, “On April 28 this year, a woman official came to a place near my village to organise a workshop on sanitation, which I attended. Back home, I spoke to my mother about it, but she told me not to prevent the villagers from defecating in the open, as people won’t listen to me. But I started talking to some young women in the city who supported me. Some women of the village, too, came forward.”
“We formed a small committee and started spreading messages about the disadvantages of open defecation,” Pooja says, adding that “I formed a Nigrani Samiti (monitoring committee) that prevents villagers from defecating in the open.”
Regarding her method to stop open defecation, she says, “Initially, it was tough. I used to get up early along with other girls and start stopping people going to defecate in the open. We often told them about its bad effects. When they did not listen to us, we snatched their water pots.”
“Initially, they did not cooperate with government masons who came to the village to build toilets. Later, they paid from their pockets for construction work,” Pooja says, adding that “The women of this village have also contributed a lot.”
Yogesh Mandloi, head of the village, says, “Most of the people of this village live below poverty line and do not bother about sanitation. Pooja’s efforts have yielded results, as out of 150 houses in the village, 77 have toilets. The construction work is still on.”
He says, “People have stopped defecating in the open in less than three months. Changing an age-old habit is not easy. We all have worked very hard towards this direction.”
Pooja, the eldest of the three siblings in her family, also got the support of her younger sister in the campaign. UNICEF, too, recognised her efforts that made her village smile.