“Yes, we all did it,” Chandrakala Malik says proudly. A rare accomplishment of an “open defecation-free village” has been achieved in Mandapathar where Chandrakala resides. Mandapathar is a small hamlet in the Gayaganda Panchayat of Ganjam district in Odisha, a state which is infamous for open defecation. Situated in the midst of dense forest, Mandapathar has nothing to boast about in terms of infrastructure. In this hamlet, which has no road and no electricity, life seems to be untouched by modern civilization.
Just a few years ago, the situation was pathetic. Diseases ravaged this village because of unclean water. “We had no choice but to use the river water for everything from bathing, to cleaning the animals. Animals and humans used to drink water from the same river,” says Chandrakala. Because of this, 80% of the children in this village suffered from scabies. Some people even died because of diarrhoea.
The village transformed because of Gram Vikas that came in the year 2011. When the Gram Vikas officials, during a meeting in the village, spoke of having sanitation facilities and 24-hour water supply in each house, the idea seemed outlandish to these villagers. With regular meeting, the women were gradually convinced. “The men couldn’t be convinced, so we went ahead with the idea,” says Chandrakala as the men sitting beside grin.
The process to get water and sanitation facilities start with each member of the family depositing ₹1,000 in a corpus which is deposited in a bank. The interest accrued on this money is used to build additional toilets when the family expands. Once the corpus fund is collected, the villagers are asked to bring the raw materials required for constructing individual toilets. The bricks are mostly made by the people. Sand and gravel required for preparing the concrete mixture are also paid for by the people. Gram Vikas helps them manage the meetings and teaches them masonry. The organisation also arranged a government subsidy for constructing these toilets.
The women had to face a lot of problems in raising the corpus fund. The men had simply refused to contribute ₹1,000 per family. Faced with stiff opposition and reluctance of the men to finance these toilets, the women took a call. The village’s Self Help Group, Maa Thakurani, pledged ₹16,000 to the corpus fund for 16 families. This was a risky but a very commendable action which made every one realize how determined these women were.
These women were really unstoppable. When men refused to help build these toilets, “We learnt masonry and started constructing the toilets ourselves,” says Hira Jani who served as secretary of Village Water and Sanitation Committee that was formed to monitor the toilet construction.
By 2013, all the toilets were complete. A tank that supplied water from a bore well through solar-powered pump was also built. This tank now supplies water 24 hours in the village; this is something that even the city folks would envy.
This village today boasts of 100% access to sanitation, thanks to Gram Vikas and the women. Every family pays a maintenance fee of ₹30 per month to maintain and repair the solar pump. This village does not have to rely on the government for water supply.
Children do not suffer from scabies anymore and diarrhoea has become rare.
Gram Vikas, which started with the sanitation project, now aims to provide income generation training to these highly motivated women. And, to this, the unstoppable women of Mandapathar have readily agreed.