Manju Bengaraj is a women’s SHG member whose leadership inspired 2200 SHG members and their families towards safe sanitation. Manju’s story is that of how a community leader can play a crucial role in helping communities envision a better future. Though an FSTP now runs successfully in Dhenkanal Municipality, Odisha, it was not the easiest road. In the initial days of the FSTP construction, there was some public resistance during its installation and limited engagement to run and operate it.
Manju is the Secretary of Jagruti Women’s Self-Help Group (SHG) and the President of Area Level Federation, which has signed a contract with the Dhenkanal Municipality to manage both the Cesspool and the FSTP. In the initial days of the FSTP planning and construction, Manju worked day and night to create awareness about FSSM services, their benefits, the importance of being ODF, and safely managed sanitation amongst the SHGs in her locality through group meetings and periodic IEC activities using leaflets, wall writings, and rallies in the town. Even though this was not an easy task, Manju never backed down and showed courageous leadership to mobilize SHG members to expedite FSSM services to people.
The Jeevan Jyoti Area Level Federation (ALF) now comprises 44 members of 22 Women SHGs. Under Manju’s district leadership, 11 members work in the plant and are well trained in its daily operation and maintenance, including desludging, treatment, disposal, landscaping, composting, etc. In addition, she provides support to the SHGs to improve their financial planning as part of Pachasutra (under Livelihood Mission). This engagement has created livelihood opportunities with dignity for women in these groups.
Manju has been working as a plant operator for 4 years and is leading and facilitating all visits to the FSTP. She has become a sanitation champion, making this FSTP a training hub and spoke model. Manju is a torch bearer for community members and for other women to join the movement towards sustainable sanitation and to make Dhenkanal Municipality clean and sustainable.