Small houses and small plots of land are an all too familiar site in the village of Hada of Fatehpur Block. The village, with only 39 families, was experiencing many economic and social hardships. Many of the villagers were of the Scheduled Caste and as a result, they were extremely poor. The surrounding town was gradually encroaching upon the village and occupying precious farm land. Because land was so limited, toilets were unheard of in the village. It was a common sight to see individuals defecating on the very land they would grow food on. Women in the village found it difficult to use open areas because there was no land where they could go and so they decided it was time to take action. They summoned the help of a contractor to build toilets in their villages and handed over a significant portion of their hard earned money. The women were excited at the thought of having a designated bathroom in their village so that they would not have to go in the open.
However, their money would soon go to waste as the contractor who promised to build toilets in their village took their money and was never seen again. The contractor had not only stolen the women’s money, but had broken their trust. This made it very difficult for CORD to come into the village and help the women. However, after some time, CORD workers were able to gain the women’s trust because they promised to train the women on how to build toilets and not touch a single rupee of theirs. Although the women were skeptical about the process they agreed to attend the training.
CORD workers conducted training for three evenings since that was the ideal time when everyone was available. Through these trainings, the villagers realized that the importance of toilets was not a matter inconvenience, but of health and cleanliness. Their attitude about sanitation was transformed and they felt the urgency of building toilets. Ten families contributed 200 rupees each for a total of 2000 rupees. When it came time to buy the materials, the families did a bit of bargaining with the proprietor by saying that if he gave them a discount, they could assure him that many toilets would be constructed in the future. From loans obtained through the Self-Help Groups and the funds gathered earlier, the families were able to buy sufficient material for constructing latrines. Vinod, a CORD worker and sanitation expert, was called to facilitate the training and build a demonstration toilet. The basic toilet structure was constructed in 1350 rupees by the hands of the beneficiaries themselves. Within 15 days, 12 toilets were constructed. Even more important than the construction of the toilet was that the villagers were actually using them. They convinced others who thought they were not ready for a toilet to build them, and they even started work on soakage pits to conserve water.
One particular villager from Hada, Mahindar Singh, came forward as a ‘Voluntary Village Resource Volunteer’ and trained at CORD. He was embarrassed about the sanitation condition of his village; visitors would not be able to tell whether animals or humans lived there. He was determined to do something about the sad state of his village and decided to attend training at CORD. In the CORD training, he learned about why sanitation was necessary and how he could empower his fellow villagers to take sanitation issues into their own hands. He was shown different low-cost latrines and how to install them into a home. Once trained, he went back to the village and informed others on the benefits and process of building a toilet.
However, Mahindar did not stop at just bringing awareness to the villagers. Since Mahindar was a mason, he decided that instead of building other structures, he would dedicate his time to building latrine structures. As he started doing this work, he began to realize that many of the people who wanted to build toilets were too poor to afford his labor like single women and handicapped people. Mahindar was determined to give them the opportunity to build a latrine, so he decided that in one month, he would dedicate five days of labor free of cost to those in need and build them a latrine. This selfless service was done despite the fact that Mahindar himself was poor. He had a vision and he would do what was necessary to bring it to fruition. Since Mahindar began building latrine structures, he has completed 35 in two wards, an amazing feat. He is determined to continue to build latrines so that everyone in his village has one. Mahindar is also planning on discussing with the Pradhan (president) of his Panchayat (local governing body) certain measures that can be implemented at the local level such as the denial of ration cards to those who do not have a latrine in their households.
Through the inspiration of such people as Mahindar, soon low-cost toilets were being built in surrounding villages. People spread the word that CORD would help them build a toilet without cheating them; however, not with funds but with knowledge. CORD helped the villagers make a toilet feasible through Self-Help Group funds. Women were able to take loans from the group to buy supplies for a latrine and then repay them as funds became available. The emphasis was not placed on the type of toilet but rather on the importance of a toilet.
The villagers of Hada started a sanitation movement. They came to understand that just like food, toilets are a necessity. This sanitation movement also encouraged the villagers to think of others ways to increase the socioeconomic growth of the community. In a way, taking control of their sanitation had empowered them and encouraged them to do more for themselves to improve their living conditions. In the end, the villagers of Hada took the situation in their own hands and despite difficulties, triumphed in the end.