“Come see our bathroom too!” I had never witnessed so much enthusiasm over a sanitation facility before. Asha (name changed) opened the makeshift wooden gate that guarded the entrance to the backyard where the bathroom was. Newly painted and immaculately clean, the facility had clearly only just been inaugurated. As she walked me through the two pit system that was designed to produce rich fertilizer after three years, I couldn’t help but marvel at the pride and ownership she felt. Where the government had struggled to convince villagers to avail Rs. 12,000 designated for toilet construction under the Swacch Bharat Mission fund, residents of Barguttu village in Jharkhand had invested up to Rs. 20,000 of their own funds to construct superior facilities that met their needs. With a little extra initiative and investment, this community had created facilities they could show off to strangers visiting their village.
It was as if each household was competing with the other for who produced the best bathroom- if one pointed to their fancy door, another pointed to how spacious the interior was. And yet, there was a collective sense of ownership in the village. “We all want to follow up with the department to build roads and bathrooms- why wouldn’t we? We want our village to progress.” Barguttu’s community stands out as a notable example of community ownership, and it is one of many villages that have gone from widespread open defecation practices to collectively investing in water and sanitation (WATSAN) facilities.
FXB India Suraksha (FXBIS) has been working in Barguttu village since 2015, implementing an integrated water and sanitation project through support from Arghyam. In total, the project spans 34 villages in 5 gram panchayats of Namkum block. The program focuses not only on linking community members to relevant water and sanitation schemes, but also on strengthening local village institutions (i.e. Village Water and Sanitation Committees or VWSCs). The programme aims to overcome practices thwarting change through an integrated behaviour change communication strategy in all villages, and addressing several other unmet priority needs such as livelihood opportunities and access to healthcare. As a result, villagers today are aware of the adverse consequences of open defecation on health, and take concrete steps to conserve water, treat water before consumption, and construct proper sanitation facilities.
Barguttu is not the only example of active community involvement in FXBIS’ project villages. In Ulidih, villagers have constructed soak pits around the hand pumps from locally sourced materials, which not only keeps the surrounding environment sanitary, but also recharges the water. Even in villages where the program has been less successful, there is now increased awareness around the role of VWSCs and enhanced understanding of the connection between WATSAN and overall health and well-being.
As we prepare to leave Asha’s house, she graciously asks us to drink a glass of homemade lime water before leaving. My colleague, Hari, and I accept without hesitation – it is 35 degrees outside and it isn’t even peak summer yet. To my surprise, the water is not only fresh, but seemingly untouched by the scorching heat. “Desi fridge,” Hari says, smiling. After the water is pumped, it is stored in earthen pots sitting atop some sand in a shaded corner of the house, which keeps the water cool even without refrigeration. Similar examples of local ingenuity or jugaad abound across villages. With a little investment and initiative, communities can harness local knowledge, integrate new learning, and access appropriate resources to lead a life of dignity in a safe, healthy and productive environment.
– Mohit Nair, Research Associate, FXB India Suraksha