Omni Impact Stories is a series that chronicles the actions taken to uplift farming villages in rural India as well as document the real-life accounts of the farmers and their families who are positively affected by the Improving Lives Foundation.

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It’s not just a matter of hygiene. It’s also a matter of safety.

Krishna is in the sixth grade at the Berambadi School in the small farming community of Gundlupet, Karnataka. Each morning before going to school he and his friends would stop among the trees or bushes on the side of the road and defecate because there was no toilet in their houses. To feel safe and guarded, it was better to go as a group. This was Krishna’s daily routine that began to change as his friends’ parents began to build toilets in their houses. He gradually found himself alone among the trees and bushes without the safety of his friends. In mid-2017, at the same time that all his friends had toilets at home, the school was also running a program to build new toilets and educate on the importance of sanitation. Krishna decided it was time to take charge and pleaded with his parents to provide the same basic need at home so that he would not have to go out alone.

Stories like Krishna’s are not unique.

Despite the hazards of contracting disease, open defecation is a common practice in rural areas of India because it is an ingrained practice that is viewed as socially acceptable. An estimated 2.4 billion people still do not have access to proper sanitation, of which about one billion defecate in the open. In 2012, the Planning Commission of India estimated that most of the global population practicing open defecation—nearly 600 million—live in India. Poor sanitation and hygiene contributes to over 800,000 deaths from diarrhea annually (UN News, 2019) and in turn, can stunt growth and impair cognitive development. Over 70% of national economic losses in most Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) are health-related and largely associated with diarrheal diseases. Lack of sanitation is especially difficult for girls and womenbecause it increases the risk of harassment, sexual exploitation and violence, and forces girls to abandon education at puberty when they start menstruating (UNHR, 2011).

To combat this problem, the Indian government launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014 with the goal to eliminate Open Defecation by 2019. As of August 2017, more than 4.6 million household toilets have been built across India but there is still a long way to go. To help contribute to this cause, in 2017, OmniActive’s Improving Lives Foundation (ILF) started working to make the village of Berambadi, in Gundlupet, Karnataka, India, Open Defecation Free (ODF).

It’s not enough to just build facilities. Education is needed to build new habits.

Our initial assessment found that 41% of the households in Berambadi did not have toilets and those that did still practiced open defecation. This was not surprising and confirms what has been the hurdle with solving this problem: while the Swachh Bharat Mission funds the building of toilets, access is only one part of the problem. Breaking the culture and habit of open defecation is, perhaps, more important. Therefore, ILF had a two-fold approach to improve sanitation: building toilets through government assistance and educating on the importance of sanitation.

ILF decided to use a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and School-Let Total Sanitation (SLTS) approach to ensure the use of toilets. We went household-to-household to find out why families did not have toilets at home and space was the biggest constraint. So, we worked with families to find solutions to build toilets within their spaces using funds already available with the panchayat. For the second and more important part of the program, we held community meetings to highlight how open defecation contaminates food and water supplies, and by promoting sanitary practices they can dramatically decrease diseases. In the schools of Berambadi and Anganwadi the goal was to foster early adoption of sanitary practices by building toilets for easy access and recruiting young boys and girls, like Krishna, to be agents of change to help transform the habits of their peers.

Winning the fight for sanitation, one village at a time.

In June 2018, as a result of our efforts, the village of Berambadi has been declared Open Defecation Free. All households still do not have an individual toilet in their homes but 79% of the village now has a community toilet. We continue to work within the village to construct toilets using micro-finance agencies and with the schools by continuing the education programs.

Open defecation is steadily decreasing globally and with continued efforts may meet the 2030 goal set in the SDGs: to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

About the OmniActive Improving Lives Foundation

OmniActive is dedicated to improving the lives of farmers as well as their families and villages in rural India. Through the Improving Lives Foundation, OmniActive dispatches various ground-level initiatives, providing critical services that promote vision health, nutrition, education, and sanitation to uplift entire farming communities. For more information, contact us at info@omniactives.com or follow us on Linkedin. #OmniImpactStories #ImprovingLives