When most of the residents of Raipur Naya Kheda Village of Madhya Pradesh are asleep, a ‘gang’ of kids, lead by a 15-year-old boy Pradeep Mewada, embarks upon a special task. These children wake up early morning to stop people from defecating in open. And how do they do that? The kids topple the villagers’ water-filled vessels and bottles. Since people are unable to wash up afterward, they quit the idea of open defecation.
“Every morning at 5 am I get up and blow a whistle in the village. This works as a clue for my team members. They understand that I am calling them for the task,” said Pradeep. This group of about 10 kids then goes in different directions, spots people defecating in open and stops them from doing so.
“People would get extremely angry. They would come to our house, threaten us, abuse us and so on. They even said bad things to my father. But we did not stop,” said Pradeep.
However, Pradeep was not always against open defecation. Like others, he too used to defecate in open. His attitude changed after he attended a sanitation programme in his village organised by Samarthan. He understood the severe problems this habit can create.
“We used to go far to defecate, unfamiliar with the fact that we are bringing back diseases with us to our village. People would fall sick very often. Diarrhea, infections, fever used to be a common occurrence here. I realised it all is connected to our bad habit of open defecation,” he said. In December 2015, Pradeep started his “Dabba Dol” gang with 10 members.
What the data says?
A report by UNICEF says when people don’t use toilets, kids are exposed to poop in their environment, and they can pick up diseases like diarrhea, which kills almost 400 children under five in India every day. Half the population in India, around 564 million people, defecate in open.
There have been a few signs of improvement in this field. Comparable data from various rounds of NSSO show that access to latrines has improved both in rural and urban India. In 1993, 85.8 per cent of rural households didn’t have access to a latrine. By 2012, the number was reduced to 59.4 per cent.
However, access to toilets does not ensure their usage. It’s about generating demand for toilets and getting everyone to use them every single day. It is also about ensuring that the existing toilets are functional.
As per the All India Baseline survey conducted by Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in 2012-13, 1.39 crore of the total 7.41 crore household toilets in India were defunct or dysfunctional. Should the focus be on not just constructing toilets, but also creating a behaviour change? This is where Pradeep’s Dabba Dol has played a keyrole in his area.
From awkward encounters to getting a toilet
Pradeep started spreading awareness in his village. But old habits don’t die soon. People refused to listen to him. “How can a child ask us to stop doing this,” said the villagers. But Pradeep was determined to bring a change in his village. His continuous efforts paid off and gradually people started listening to him.
“I got really angry at first when the kids spilled my water. But then I realised they are doing the right thing. We need to change our habits. I constructed a toilet in our house after that,” said Prahlad Singh, a village resident.
Pradeep recalls an incident when a neighbour got hold of Pradeep and his team and thrashed them. Pradeep was hurt physically, but his intentions were still unaffected. When the villagers continued to threaten Pradeep and his army, he contacted the sarpanch of the village. The sarpanch supported his idea and accompanied him a few times. This helped the young Samaritans in spreading the awareness.
“For about three months initially, there was no change in the people’s attitude. In fact, I became one of the most hated kids in the community. Even my father was worried and asked me to quit this initiative. My mother supported me throughout,” he recalls. Gradually people started listening to Pradeep. They also started understanding the adverse effects of open defecation.
The beginning of a success story
His father was the first one to realise the significance of Pradeep’s work. And Pradeep’s house became the first in the village to have a toilet. Now every house in the village has constructed a toilet and Nayakheda has become an open defecation free village.
Once the toilets were constructed, another problem of lack of water appeared in front of this gang. The kids approached the government and a borewell was dug in the village to solve the water problem.
“I am happy and proud of my son’s work and achievements. He is doing the right thing,” said Ajab Singh Mewada, Pradeep’s father.
The movement gradually spread to the nearby villages. A lot more kids have joined Pradeep’s mission and the team covers about 10 to 12 nearby villages. “Our school starts at 8 in the morning. We have divided the kids into different groups. We go to different locations and make sure no one defecates in open,” says the young changemaker.
The village, which once had human waste lying on the roadsides and near the bushes, now has messages on the walls about getting rid of this life-taking habit. All the 300 households in the village have a toilet of their own.of their own.
The journey was definitely not easy.
“It has taken a lot of efforts and hardwork to reach here. There have been times when we didn’t know what to do since people were just not listening. But I was determined to bring a change. I have started something good and I will not leave it midway,” Pradeep said.
The villagers who earlier abused Pradeep now have all good things to say about him. However, the older generation is still reluctant to use the toilet and sometimes indulge in open defecation.
“There have been so many efforts done to change the situation by the government and people. Although conditions are improving, a change in mindset at large scale is yet to happen,” he says. Pradeep is in grade 11 and wants to pursue a career in the field of sanitation.
Water Aid India made this amazing video on Pradeep’s work-
Pradeep now needs the right guidance to take his efforts to more places. He says that his idea is actually working and he has seen a major change in his village. It is simple, effective, and above all, it is working. He now wants to form more teams of kids who can join him in the mission to make India open defecation free. Pradeep needs a proper plan and guidance to make this a reality. If you are willing to help Pradeep in his mission, contact – firstname.lastname@example.org.