Village Sikandarganj in Sehore district used to face frequent breakdowns of community handpumps. The technician from the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) used to charge Rs. 200 for a service that is supposed to be provided free of cost. When Samarthan’s team along with a team of resource persons from various government line departments (including two functionaries from the PHED visited village one evening to carry out a sensitization campaign, the villagers aired their grievances with them. The functionaries of the PHED assured the villagers that they would report the issue to the officials. As a result of the complaint, the technician who was unlawfully charging the money was reprimanded. The villagers have reported that all the repair work is carried out promptly and free of cost. The same team of resource persons has visited 40 villages over the past three months in a campaign dubbed by Samarthan as Ratri Chaupal. It is this team that has created awareness about the Rs. 2000 grant from the Agriculture department for the construction of NADEP composting pit, which has led to the construction of NADEP pits in 30 villages. As a part of this ‘Ratri Chaupal’ campaign, these resource persons have gone from village to village to tell people about the increase in subsidy for toilet construction under Nirmal Gram Abhiyan from Rs. 3200 to Rs. 4600. It was because of these efforts that 76 toilets were constructed during the campaign and more continue to be constructed.
Samarthan has been implementing an initiative to spread the sanitation message in various Panchayats of the Sehore district. One of the objectives of the project is to set up Block Resource Centers (BRC) at each of the three blocks of the Sehore district equipped with material to sensitize villagers on the need and benefits of sanitation. However it was realized that beneficiaries from the village seldom visit block headquarters and whenever they do, they do so on some official business and would hardly find the time to visit the block resource center and the sensitization resources would just sit there without reaching out to the beneficiaries. It was thus decided to set up a Mobile BRC, which is essentially a team of resource persons who would undertake sensitization visits to the villages with the purpose of convincing the community to undertake sanitation efforts. Samarthan staff that has been working closely with line departments for the past several years has cultivated good professional relationships with a number of functionaries, especially with the ones who are sincere and proactive in their work and have a commitment towards social welfare. Samarthan team got in touch with some of these functionaries and shared with them the idea of creating a mobile BRC. The government functionaries volunteered to act as resource persons and join the Samarthan team in visiting villages for sensitizing the communities. The team also shared the idea with the officials of various line departments, who in turn suggested additional names of staff who had good oratory skills and would be willing to volunteer for the initiative.
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The team shored up by Samarthan includes functionaries various capacities in different government line departments including Education, PHED, Agriculture, Zila Panchayat, Health, PWD etc. These government functionaries are at various stages of their service – some a few years into their service and some closer to their retirement. But a common thread that binds these government functionaries is the motivation to contribute to the society over and above what their job requires. Many of these resource persons have special talents like poetry which have proved instrumental in engaging people.
After a few initial sensitization visits, the team realized that it was very difficult to gather people at one place during the day time as most of them were away in the fields. During Ganeshotsav, the team decided to visit a village at night as they were sure to find the entire village gathered together to celebrate the annual festival. This proved to be a masterstroke as it provided the team an opportunity to strike a rapport with the villagers by participating in the festivities. After joining the people in bhajans and other activities, the team started delivering the sanitation message under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. The people were very responsive as the team had been successful in winning their confidence. This how the idea of ‘Ratri Chaupal’ was born. Samarthan has carried out one-day workshops to train the team of resource persons.
In order to induce the community into building toilets, the mobile BRC team tried to stir their sentiments. The female team members stressed how uncomfortable it was for the women of the community to defecate in the open. The team also tried to drive home the point that open defecation was the root cause of malnutrition and disease in children. They also tried to dispel the myths prevalent among the community that toilet construction is expensive. Most of the people were under the impression that toilet construction requires almost Rs. 50,000. The team told the community about low-cost techniques of toilet construction. They were able to convince most of the households in each village to shell out money for sanitation. Issues of village-level sanitation such as drains and solid waste disposal were also discussed with the community.
An important side-effect of this campaign was that because a number of government functionaries were present in the village, the community started sharing other problems with them. They raised issues related to several other government schemes such as social security pensions, MGNREGS, water supply, education etc. While the functionaries were able to address some issues immediately, for the others they gave guided the complainants whom to approach. In some of the villages, people said that it was for the first time that government officials had visited them.
When the team of resource persons was asked what made them join the campaign even though it was not required as a part of their work. They said that what motivated them to join the team was not only their inclination towards community service but also their close relationships with the Samarthan team. They said that it was it satisfaction of working with like-minded people as a team that induced them to spare time, efforts and money (i.e. fuel for personal vehicles) for the campaign.
So this is the modus operandi of the ‘Ratri Chaupal’ campaign – the Samarthan team contacts the volunteers to find out their availability for a visit, based on which a mutually convenient date is agreed upon. The volunteers take their own vehicles and the entire team reaches the village in the evening. They go to a central meeting point of the village and start cultural activities. Gradually the whole village gathers and joins the activities. Once the team establishes a rapport with the community, they start giving out the sanitation message and sharing the problems of the community.
The Samarthan team shared the experiences and achievements of the mobile BRC and the Ratri Chaupal with the District Collector of Sehore. The Collector was so impressed with the idea that he decided to use it as a grievance redressal mechanism for various government programmes. He decided to begin by using the technique for the district’s campaign to revive the Kulans River, under which the villages in the catchment of the river are being sensitized on various government schemes on sanitation and solid waste management. The Collector has issued an order directing staff from Zila Panchayat, Janpad Panchayat and line departments including Agriculture, PHED, Women and Child Development, Health, Revenue, Horticulture, Education and PWD, to form a team and visit villages every fortnight. The Collector has named this technique ‘Ratri Vishram’ and has directed the staff to stay in the village during the night. A nodal officer has been appointed for every village and the Collector goes on surprise visits to monitor the nightly events.
The Collector has ordered that once the Kulans River Revival campaign is over, the ‘Ratri Vishram’ technique be used for other campaigns as well.