Master Book Keeper(MBK) in Niladunguri Village, Kabarapali GP, Jujumura Block, Sambalpur District
Saraswati Bhoi’s story is that of a Master Book Keeper noticing the state of single pit toilets in her village and taking on leadership to make the village have 100% toilet coverage.
Saraswati Bhoi works as a Master Bookkeeper in Niladunguri Village, Odisha, under the Odisha Livelihood Mission and a member of a women’s self-help group (SHG).
During her work, Saraswati observed that most of the toilets in the village are single pit toilets. These toilets are susceptible to overflowing and can potentially harm the health of the entire community. However, this is not what drove Saraswati to take charge of the situation. Her community believed that these toilets will fill up within a short period, which will force them towards open defecation. This fear is what drove Saraswati to take matters into her own hands. She was determined to convert all single pits into twin pit toilets within her village
Such infrastructural change is not easy and requires persistence as well as resources, but Saraswati was not one to be intimidated by this. She first met all her SHG members, mobilizing them and explaining to them why she was keen on this change. She also engaged with the community resource persons (CRP) to discuss the importance of retrofitting toilets. Once she had all key stakeholders on board, she then focused on coordinating with the Gram Panchayat to conduct a Gram Sabha meeting for mobilizing the community. Despite various obstacles, a Gram Sabha was conducted on 2nd October 2022, in which Saraswati set an example and motivated all CRPs and SHG members to take a pledge to create 100% toilet coverage in the village and to improve cleanliness in her community
This pledge led to the formation of Nigrani Samiti to stop open defecation. The team further undertook coordination and advocacy with the Block administration for the release of WASH loans to SHGs to carry out the retrofitting. They also worked towards capacity building for SHG members with support from UNICEF and through ;oans ranging from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 10,000, for retrofitting toilets to make them functional. Saraswati coordinated with all stakeholders and, with the support of the team, conducted a series of IEC activities to sensitize households about retrofitting, toilet usage, and visual cleanliness.
Through surveys, periodic cleanliness drives, and period meetings, the team managed to achieve 100% retrofitting of toilets, i.e. in 105 households in Niladunguri village. These toilets are actively being used by the beneficiaries, resulting in a drastic reduction of water and airborne diseases.
A Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant(F STP) was constructed at the nearby Urban Local Body for the treatment of sludge from septic tanks from Niladungiri village. The village has achieved the magnificent achievement of becoming ODF+.
The success story of Niladungri village and the efforts of Saraswati Bhoi has motivated Nilima Jouda, a Member of Srustikarta SHG working as CRP in Kkarapali GP of Jujumura Block of Sambalpur district to replicate this model, carry out retrofitting of toilets, and contribute towards the ODF+ journey of Sambalpur district. Saraswati was not just a champion in her community but inspired more women like her to take matters into their hands. Without Saraswati, her community would not have the kind of toilet infrastructure that they now have access to.