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Swachchh, Sundar Aur Akarshak Sunderkera (Clean, Beautiful and Attractive Sunderkera)

This is the ‘vision’ for Sunderkera Gram Panchayat articulated by the community. They also want to develop their gram panchayat as a ‘tirth sthan’. Regular religious events are held in the panchayat which is well attended by people from outside the panchayat. Why can’t they make Sunderkera a pilgrimage site?

Nearly half the population of the panchayat is between 20 and 45 years of age. This youthful population is an asset. They are energetic, with fresh ideas and, capacitated by PRIA, are slowly coming together with their panchayat elected representatives, navratnas, (nominated by the gram panchayat under Swachch Bharat Mission), teachers, mitanins, anganwadi workers and even tax inspectors to materialise the community’s vision.

Poor management of cattle is one of the reasons for waste and dirt in the common areas and lanes. There are issues related to availability of water, construction of a drainage system, and ensuring sustainability. But the gram panchayat has five big ponds which can support sanitation related activities. These are now known to the community, because of the SWOT analysis they conducted of the villages. They have also prepared a sanitation plan.

Where are the resources going to come from, they wondered, to implement this plan? Perhaps we could levy parking fees from visitors and charge a small fee from the shops which are set up during the religious events that are held, suggested someone. Or, we could access funds under Swachch Bharat Mission (SBM), suggested another. The crowning glory was when the Panchayat Secretary  proposed to forego his salary for a month to start building the resources which would be needed to make the panchayat clean. What an inspirational form of citizen participation!

Sunderkera is participating in its own transformation by raising awareness, gaining new knowledge, collecting information, and sharing it with concerned government departments and the public at large.

PRIA’s efforts at promoting rural sanitation in Chhattisgarh includes sharing information with communities of the role that gram panchayats can play in the SBM initiative. Lively discussions on the framework of SBM guidelines and how the community can work to take the Mission forward in order to achieve total sanitation are held. Such information gave  community leaders and elected representatives the motivation to make sanitation a top concern for Sunderkera.

An equally critical element of PRIA’s intervention is to organise participatory collection of village data by the community themselves. This was facilitated by conducting a social mapping exercise. A transect walk focused on the availability of water and sanitation related infrastructure, such as households with or without toilets, and the prevalence of hand pumps, wells and drainage systems.  This process allowed the groups to gather first-hand understanding of village conditions and, more importantly, quantify the availability of water and sanitation resources, or the lack thereof. Participatory data shows that Sunderkera currently has 101 functional toilets with another 424 under construction. “The transect walk was my favourite exercise in Sunderkera” says Perry Watson from Canada, a student intern at PRIA. “Having people show me their homes with such colourful exteriors, backyard gardens, and newly constructed toilets was a real pleasure.”

What use is data if it is not consolidated and analysed to provide insights into the way forward? Data and information collected during the door-to-door social mapping exercise was used to envision a future for the panchayat. Identifying and understanding community strengths was a means of drafting a plan related to infrastructure construction and facilitating sanitation related behaviour change. The total cost of the plan was calculated and resource needs were linked with the appropriate departments. PRIA will handhold the community in submitting the final plan document to get it approved through the mandated process.

Finally, on the evening of 19 November, to mark World Toilet Day, the collected data and plan of action was shared with the larger community in a special gram sabha.  The evening was a celebration of sorts; traditional music and dance complemented the sharing.

Sunderkera’s vision is a culmination of the participatory planning processes PRIA promotes, where all stakeholders are involved, an action plan is generated and the community begins to take charge of its own development.

With inputs from Perry Watson, a student at the University of Victoria in Canada, who is  currently an intern at PRIA.

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