This is part of the series of Human Interest Stories from campaign partner UNICEF
Local leaders help to drive sanitation improvements, bringing significant health and economic gains
Not too long ago, there were only four household toilets, which had all been constructed by the government, in the Ramamaitya village in India. Lack of access to proper sanitation and the continuing practice of open defecation left this rural village vulnerable to disease and contaminated natural resources. The issue of open defecation and poor sanitation carries human and financial costs for people all over the world, not just rural villages of Ramamaitya. Every day, 1,000 children die from diarrhoeal diseases attributed to poor sanitation, hygiene, or unsafe drinking water.
In June 2013 UNICEF—working on partnership with a local organisation Knowledge Links—engaged with the community in Ramamaitya to help improve the sanitation situation.As a tribal farmer in this rural village, Moti had not had many leadership and educational opportunities. But after attending workshops with the Knowledge Links team on Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS), Moti was inspired to take action.
Through the workshops, Moti and others learned about sanitation’s impacts on health, education and local development, and were trained on how to build toilets. A feature of this initiative was ‘cash for toilets’ in which villagers contributed cash towards the construction of household toilets in the village. Motivated by the UNICEF-supported trainings, Moti emerged as a natural leader in his village and helped encourage other community members to take action to reduce the practice of open defecation in their community.
In just four months, the village became open defecation free. All households had constructed toilets themselves and started using them regularly, thanks in part to Moti and other community leaders’ perseverance and enthusiastic motivational work.
The example of Ramamaitya village showed local government officials that sanitation programmes can be successful when communities are empowered to take the lead in adopting improved hygiene behaviours and eliminating open-defecation. Reaching open defecation-free status translates to healthier kids in Ramamatiya, less missed school days and greater human development.