Purnima Roy, Treasurer of the Self Help Group (SHG) Cluster in Howrah, Kolkata, achieves what few could have even dreamt of: construction of 300 Individual Household Latrines (IHHLs) in only seven months.

Juargori is a Gram Panchayat (GP) in Uluberia II Block of Howrah District of West Bengal. The Juargori Narimilan Sanga SHG Cluster comprises of Groups from 11 villages. In late 2016, the Cluster was approached by the staff of Water For People – India to construct IHHLs in their Gram Panchayat (GP) with support from the Block Officials under the ITC Limited Mission Sunehra Kal Initiative. Purnima’s answer was an emphatic “No.”

“How could this Cluster even dare to take on such a responsibility,” Purnima explains. She is one of the SHG members. Undeterred, Water For People India and ITC discussed the opportunity with the Cluster’s Up-Pradhan (President) who, in turn, encouraged and offered support to the Cluster. The Cluster then agreed.

Household Survey

Work began with a survey of households in Ambaberia Village in this GP, where it was found that only 39 households had individual latrines. Doubts resurfaced in earnest. “The task seemed humungous. How would we women be able to bring it all together? We’d need to involve the labour, get the hardware material, get trained masons for the construction,” recalls Purnima, who then outlined the support she got from Water For People – India. A workshop was organised wherein the Block government officials explained the technological steps needed and provided information on what was required to build an IHHL. Another workshop for masons was conducted where 25 people from the SHG Federation were trained to construct the latrines. This four-day training, also attended by the Gram Pradhan, was facilitated by Nirmal Sahayak, and a GP engineer. The women constructed a model toilet within three days of the training.

The Cluster had already selected the recipients for the latrines and construction began within a week. Prior to this, the households were visited by the Swachhta Doot (Community Volunteer) and a contribution of Rs. 900 (US$14) was collected from each household. To further support the initiative, a Rs. 5 lakh (US$7,840) loan was provided under the project as a revolving fund to the Cluster.

The documentation was properly prepared and receipts of the contributions were given to the beneficiary, the SHG Cluster and the GP. Material was provided to the households and receipts given. A No Objection Certificate was submitted along with a copy of an identity proof and the construction was supervised by the five-member Core Committee comprising of SHG members.

Simultaneously, discussions and meetings were held with the villagers to inform them of the importance of using toilets, the need for an environment that is open defecation free (ODF) and toilet maintenance systems. These efforts bore fruit, as the construction of 300 toilets was completed by March 2017.

The work of this SHG Cluster has been widely appreciated at the block administration level. ‘To work towards a Nirmal or ODF block, the GPs have been allocated to different stakeholders to facilitate 100% coverage and an ODF environment.

In our review meetings, the Joint Block Development Officer (BDO) often tells the other lagging groups, “Look at this group of women who have achieved what they have set out to do. You people are forever making excuses. Learn from them.”

The Joint BDO of Uluberia II, Bishwajit Chakraborti candidly admits, “I was a bit hesitant to assign this responsibility to the SHG Cluster. However, consultation with my seniors and meetings with both Water For People – India and ITC Ltd. instilled the confidence that results would be delivered. The SHGs have done a great job. By April 2017, we had already reimbursed the funds for the construction for 142 toilets. The rest will be reimbursed as the documentation is completed. From all the agencies working here, I have no hesitation in saying that the support provided by ITC Ltd. and Water For People – India has been the best.”

Chakraborti is also clear about the road ahead. “After coverage, the focus needs to shift to usage and people need to be intensely involved so that the desired behaviour change takes place.”

Bishivjit Charverty

This experience has helped the SHG Cluster gain credibility. “The Pradhan has complete trust in us since our paperwork is complete and transparent,” informs a proud Purnima. “The quality of work executed by this group is very good,” endorses Tanushree Singh, the Gram Pradhan.

Purnima jokingly recalls, “We would have arguments with Water For People – India almost daily in the beginning. But without their encouragement and technical support, we would not be here today.”

The Juargori Narimilan Sanga SHG Cluster, is not resting on its laurels. It has been asked to construct 120 IHHLs for the adjoining Baniban GP. The women are all geared up for this and are raring to go.

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