Be it Deojharan or Similihata, the remote villages in Deogarh district are certainly the talk of the town. These tiny villages set in the picturesque mountainous backdrop, have invited many sanitation champions in recent past. Students and practitioners alike are thronging the villages to understand what it takes to construct a toilet and regularly use it. The toilets constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission have of course a different narrative to tell. These colourful toilets bear the fruit of initiatives of the district administration which has successfully encouraged people to construct and use a toilet, albeit in a colourful manner.
The coloured toilets are now giving Deogarh a new identity for sure. Deogarh was not known for better sanitation practices till 2013 with only 11% rural households having individual household latrines. But today after four years, the district has achieved the distinction of being the first district of the state to become open defecation free (ODF) district by providing 100% households a toilet of their own & on top of it all, the colourful toilets are adding spice to the achievements. More than 1,000 toilets in the districts are painted by the beneficiaries themselves and mini parks are also constructed around these toilets. This has helped owners to develop a sense of ownership and it has resulted in optimum and increased use of toilets. Sanitation experts believe that even though we can construct toilets, we cannot help people to use it 100% until and unless a change in attitude of people happens. “In order to bring a sense of ownership among the toilet owners, the district has started a social mobilization process whereby the toilet owners are requested to whitewash and paint the toilets in colour. It not only makes the toilet look beautiful but also develops a greater sense of ownership among toilet owners” said Kumuda Satpathy, the District IEC consultant.
In Reamal block of the district, in villages like Deojharan, Smilihata, Rengalpali, Hrudapalli, Manharpur, Hariharpur , one can see walls of the toilets are painted with colours. Flowers, images, decorative ornamental paintings have inculcated a spirit of ownership among people. “People spend around Rs 50-60 and paint these toilets on their own. We don’t encourage a painter do it,” said Murali Gadanayak, Secretary of Swacchta Committee of Deojharan village in Kundheigola GP.
Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik took to twitter to congratulate Deogarh on 4th August for becoming the first district in the state & 158th in the nation to attain the ODF status. “We are happy that Deogarh became the first district in Odisha to get the ODF status. Everyone from the district contributed,” said Purnanchandra Pathi, Collector –cum- District Magistrate of the district.
“This small initiative taken up by District Water & Sanitation Mission is an attempt to ensure people not only construct and own a toilet but also regularly use it” said Anila Priyadarshini of District Water & Sanitation Mission.
Sanitation experts point out that even after a toilet is constructed; people for different reasons fail to abandon the practice of open defecation. Hence, the real purpose of constructing a toilet gets defeated. This initiative is likely to develop a sense of ownership among people. People also plant flower saplings to make the surroundings of toilets clean and beautiful.
Certainly, Deogarh is showing the way other districts need to follow.