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How a 90-year-old couple led their village to become free from open defecation

Think Change India
21st Jun 2016
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Due to the collective efforts of the residents, Achampatti, a village 15 kms off Madurai in Tamil Nadu, on October 2, 2015 was declared an open defecation free (ODF) village and is the flagship village of the district rural development agency’s Swachh Bharath mission. And at the helm was a couple-both 90-years-old.

Image: (L-R) Press Information Bureau ; The Times Of India
Image: (L-R) Press Information Bureau ; The Times Of India

“It was a tough task though,” panchayat president S Murugan told The Times f India. Before the project was launched, very few houses in the village had individual toilets. Most people defecated in open fields and along the water bodies. “We had to convince them to use toilets. The DRDA’s (District Rural Development Agency) scheme of providing 12,000 subsidy to those who construct toilets at home also helped. Fortunately, the owner of Devaki Hospitals in Madurai, who grew up in the village, came forward to sponsor the installation of solar lights in the toilets and also offered to bear the cost of constructing toilets for poor families,” Murugan added.

Out of 373 houses in the village, 369 have individual toilets while the rest of the families manage with a well maintained public toilet facility. Among the 369 families, 148 have solar lighted toilets. The next mission of the village administration is to work out a solid waste management scheme to manage biodegradable and non-biodegradable garbage.

DRDA’s project director, Rohini Ramdas, said the success of the village comes from the efforts of residents to maintain its ODF status. “The villagers have formed a team among themselves to ensure that neighbouring villagers don’t come to their village limits to relieve themselves. They go on rounds by 4am and chase anyone away if they find them defecating in the open”, she said.

Role models have played a vital role in making the project a success. When villagers in Achampatti came up with excuses of getting claustrophobic and claimed toilets will spoil the purity of their homes, 90-year-old C Alagu Ambalam and his wife Angammal set an example by constructing a toilet in their house. Abandoned by their children, the elderly couple lives on rearing goats and old age pension. “Having a toilet at home is convenient and the village also stays hygienic this way,” said Ambalam.

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