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Terrific toilet training

Lessons on hygiene and building toilets at home have halved diseases and improved school attendance in tribal villages of Chhattisgarh’s Sarguna district within two years, reports Ejaz Kaiser.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2009 00:58 IST
Ejaz Kaiser

Nanku Ram’s nine-year old son Digham rarely misses school because of illness. And Uttara Bai's family has been free of chronic diarrhoea for a year, which is no rare feat for Purkela, a village of around 2000 people that boasted of just a handful of toilets three years ago.

They are not alone.

Lundra Block Medical Officer Dr Durga Prasad Shandilya told Hindustan Times that the water-borne and skin disease cases have halved in the tribal Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh.

UNICEF got independent research body Synovate to track disease prevalence in Lundra as part of a study. Synovate findings were no different from the health department data: there is a 50 per cent reduction in cases of dysentery, diarrhoea, malaria and skin diseases in Sarguja district. The reason: Tribals in Purkela village in Lundra block, about 400 km from Raipur, have adopted hygienic practices with a vengeance. For the first time ever, villagers such as Nanku and Uttara own a house with its very own toilet, which is no mean achievement in India where 60 per cent homes do not have a toilet.

Owning a house with a toilet has become a status symbol with many carrying boards at the door that read ‘Shauchalaya yukt makaan’(A house with a toilet).

This is the result of a unique programme called Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), which is run in partnership between different government departments such as education, panchayat, tribal welfare and women and child development. Apart from the emphasis on personal hygiene, the programme helps villagers maintain household hygiene, cleanliness near drinking water sources like hand-pumps or tube-wells, and manage waste.

The roads leading to villages of Purkela, Mahora or Jarhadih in Lundra block of Sarguja have been turned defecation-free zones, with village panchayats constituting a Toka-Taki Samiti (Intercepting Committee) to reprimand and then fine those who break the rules.

H for hygiene and health

Shritika Nagesh (28), who had lost her ten-month-old daughter to dysentery in 2005, had become a nervous wreck worrying about her six-year-old daughter Prabha's frequent illnesses. “Since we installed a toilet and I started insisting on frequent hand washing, Prabha has transformed from a sickly to a healthy girl. She now rarely misses school,” said the Jarhadih housewife.

Better health also transforms into higher literacy, especially among girls. “Ever since the school got separate toilets for boys and girls, the girls, whose parents were earlier hesitant to send them to schools, are regularly attending classes,” said Bodham Ram, school headmaster at Jarhadih village.

Hygiene has been made part of the school curriculum. Students are taught personal grooming and asked to regularly cut their nails, groom their hair, wash their hands, maintain dental hygiene and wear clean clothes.

“Students are given a hygiene education kit and evaluated each day on a ten-point on their appearance,” said Sodhuram, Jarhadih village panchayat secretary. “My teachers say personal grooming will reduce the threat of illness, said Pushpi (11). Agrees Mikhu (9), a Class 3 student of middle school in Mahora village, a Nirmal Gram Puraskar recipient: “Personal hygiene has become a part of my life and I cannot imagine myself unclean.”

“Installing toilets in schools and hygiene education have been instrumental in persuading parents to follow healthy sanitary practices at home,” said Baisram Dhakad, district programme coordinator in TSC.

“With water being provided through forced lift hand pumps, even anganwadi centres (child care centres) have come up with baby-friendly sanitation units. There, sharp fall in infections among children has pushed up attendance at schools,” Lundra's education officer D.K. Gupta told HT.

How it started

Getting villagers used to defecating in the country clean up their act wasn’t easy. “The initial resistance to the sanitation campaign was overcome once we convinced them about the benefits,” S.P. Singh, a campaign manager in Ambikapur, told HT. Incidents of villagers being bitten by snakes, poisonous insects or attacked by bears or elephants while defecating helped in convincing them, as did public messages through song and film shows.

Even elected representatives are now tying to get votes on the cleanliness bandwagon. “Impressed with diseases brought under control and behavioural change of people, the elected representatives have begun reaching out to officials seeking inclusion of their blocks for executing sanitation programme,” said Bhim Singh of public health engineering department in Sarguja.

So successful is the campaign that 40 gram panchayats in Lundra won the President’s Nirmal Gram Puraskar for 2008, and 22 have been selected for the award this year.”

“Now there is competition among rural panchayats to ensure their villages is the cleanest,” said Lundra MLA Ramdev Ram.