The villagers of Amarambedu on the outskirts of Gummidipoondi, near Chennai, have always taken pride in their jasmine crop.
They supply the flowers to the Koyambedu market. But visitors to the village have always been bothered by a stench in the air due to the practice of open defecation that was prevalent until recently.
When a team led by Rotary Club of Madras visited Amarambedu in August, the villagers began to understand the public health issues arising out of the lack of toilets. Change occurred: vision, perception and behaviour transformed significantly.
“We did not have toilets in our village. Open defecation was common even among the educated. Volunteers of the Sanitation Project triggered a sense of disgust and shame about open defecation,” says Murugan (49), who stopped the practice a few weeks ago.
Five members of Murugan’s household have a toilet now. Pollution of farmlands has reduced and the fragrance of flowers continues to hang fresh in the air.
As the 128-household village also grows paddy, volunteers of Feedback Foundation proved to them that flies contaminated cooked rice because of open defecation and caused diarrhoea. “The youth were inspired. They started building toilets,” says Murugan. Each toilet funded by Rotary Club of Madras costs Rs. 15,000 with the labour of villagers.
Feedback Foundation CEO Ajay Sinha says the project has been successful in many countries. “Six million in India defecate in the open. Nearly 90% of our water resources are contaminated because of open defecation. About 45% of our children are malnourished because of the practice. At least, 1,000 children die daily due to diarrhoea caused by open defecation,” he says.
President of Rotary Club of Madras S.N. Srikanth says the project has brought about attitudinal change among villagers.
“The villagers have taken ownership,” he says, even as Actor Jiiva stressed the need for dissemination of information on the lives of such villagers through films, at a recent function.