More than a toilet

November 30th, 2015

When we crossed the streets of Baji Persia of Gulariya Municipality to reach Shalik Ram’s house in Neelkamal Tole, the only thing that bothered us was the billows of dust behind our vehicle. Unlike villages in the terai, the southern plains of Nepal, the pathway was neat and clean, with no signs of pile of poos – and no bad smell either.

Shalik Ram Murau’s small family comprising two young sons and wife live in a long house, a not so familiar sight for a visitor from Kathmandu.  It is exceptionally long. The house is shared by Shalik Ram and his four brothers, with separate rooms and kitchens for each family. The children from all five households were playing in the common courtyard when we reached there.

Shalik Ram Murau is a happy man to have a toilet of his own. (c) Practical Action/Swarnima Shrestha

Shalik Ram Murau is a happy man to have a toilet of his own. (c) Practical Action/Swarnima Shrestha

Return on investment
More interesting to me was a row of five concrete toilets to the north of the house – two of them equipped with septic tank while the rest three with cement rings. It looked odd to me to have five toilets in a row – each costing more than NRs 19,000 (1USD = NRs 100). The cost, for an average earning family in Nepal, is way too much.

It was Shalik Ram’s wife’s turn to douse my curiosity, “Every house in our tole now has a toilet.” “Why to have a common toilet if you have a separate kitchen and a separate house?”

Only few months back the entire tole, a village sub-division, had only four toilets. Now there are 36 toilets, one for each household. In fact, Shalik Ram’s family completed building concrete toilets first and then constructed the long house replacing the old mud house.

And the investment is paying back. Shalik Ram built the toilet last April and till now he has been lucky to evade once-a-month visit to the doctor’s. Falling sick was a normal thing for the two boys then and he had to pay NRs 200 at the least. Some visits even costed around NRs 1000. The savings will help him pay back the loan he took to build the toilet.

Flood-resistant loos
Another interesting aspect was the elevation at which the toilets stood. On being asked, Shalik Ram replied curtly, “To avoid the floods from entering the toilets.” Smiling, his wife added, “Didn’t you notice the plinth level of our house?”

Neelkamal Tole is flood-prone and the area gets inundated during the monsoons. So, all the houses and toilets in the settlement have been built on a higher elevation.

No more embarrassment
Though a matter of mortification our conversation turned to the situation prior to installation of toilets. “To avoid being seen by people, we used to go to the nearby fields or orchards early in the morning,” said Shalik Ram. To this, his better half added, “For women, it was more difficult – we used to go to the place where no men came.”

Days of embarrassment are over for Shalik Ram's wife and son. (c) Practical Action/Swarnima Shrestha

Days of embarrassment are over for Shalik Ram’s wife and son. (c) Practical Action/Swarnima Shrestha

However, it was worse when someone suffered from diarrhoea. There was no choice than to run to nearby fields. During the monsoon and floods, it was much more difficult to get a safe place to empty bowels.

Then there is the danger of snakes in the dark. The terai is home to poisonous snakes like kraits, cobras and vipers. As per the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, 12,000 people are bitten by snakes annually and out of which 2,000 are from the terai.

Now with toilets in every house, they don’t need to go outside to answer the call of nature. “Now, whenever I feel like visiting a lavatory, I rush to my house,” Shalik Ram chuckled. “This new habit doesn’t allow me to go elsewhere.”

Involvement of all
While we were talking, a man from neighbouring tole joined us and complained that people are not using toilets as planned. Before we could say anything, Shalik Ram said, “Fine them and they would start using toilets.” The fear of fine imposed by W-WASH-CC, the ward water, sanitation and hygiene coordination committee for the defaulters has helped control the open defecation practices.

Janaki Ghimire, a social mobiliser involved in the WASH movement in Neelkamal Tole informed that NRs 7,000 has already been collected as fine. The hard work and perseverance of social workers like Janaki is another crucial factor furthering the open defecation free (ODF) movement.

The “no sanitation card, no facilities” approach of the municipality has further helped this movement. Now, the residents need to show their sanitation card to get a citizenship card or a passport and even to register the birth of their children. The sanitation card has become a must-have possession and the only way to get it is to build a toilet.

Bandwagon effect
Being caught in the act is now more shameful according to the family. Earlier, everybody in the village used to go out in the open and it was like a daily chore for all. Since most of the people started building toilets, the peer pressure increased and thus started the bandwagon effect of building toilets.

As Shalik Ram stood to bid goodbye, we noticed his crippled leg. Polio attacked him when he was a year-old and since then he has been facing difficulty to walk properly. For him, the toilet is not just another facility. It means more to him.

Gulariya Municipality, together with Practical Action and Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO), declared the area ODF on 25 May 2015.

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