Young professionals motivate people to participate in rural sanitation

The Young Professionals worked closely with the District and aimed to fill the gap of the Swachchata Dooths (Image: SCOPE)
The Young Professionals worked closely with the District and aimed to fill the gap of the Swachchata Dooths (Image: SCOPE)

We all know that regular use of toilets is very important for having good health.  However, we are constantly confronted by statistics that tell us that toilet use in rural areas is not good. How do we solve this problem? Is it possible to tackle it by outsiders – who go in wanting to “fix” the situation or by working with communities to understand their needs? These were the questions Society for Community Participation and Empowerment (SCOPE), a Dharwad based NGO asked itself when it designed the Young Professionals Program.

They found that while subsidies were high for construction, it was often insufficient to build a good toilet. Another major issue was providing the family motivation to construct the toilet.

We observed that the information, education and communication (IEC) activities at the village level mainly included wall painting and baseline survey etc. As per villagers, many awareness programmes were conducted only as formalities by the Gram Panchayats under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The Swachchata Dooths, though exist on paper were not functional. They were either not working, or were not paid their incentives or the incentive paid was not enough to attract the right kind of candidates.

This is common across several water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector programmes. While there are committed professionals who work for their respective sector for decades, WASH does not have such luck. Due to the dearth of skilled professionals, people without professional training and aptitude are posted to the sector. This results in the personnel working for only a short duration in the sector before moving on.  

Keeping this in mind, a fellowship programme to train professionals in the WASH sector was conceived and implemented through SCOPE in partnership with Arghyam. The idea was to recruit postgraduates from different sectors and train them for a considerable length of time in the technical and social know-how of the sector.  The Fellowship for the Young Professionals (YPs) as they were called was designed for 18 months. 

The content of the programme was so designed that experiential learning became the core of it. The first 6 months were for understanding the sector by training in-house in SCOPE and through placements in different organisations in the country doing pioneering work in the sector.

The next year of the fellowship was for village immersion and working with the community. Each Young Professionals selected a village and worked with the community while staying in the village. The villages selected were in Dharwad, Haveri and Gadag districts of Karnataka, Twelve of them (7 women and 5 men) worked in 11 villages. Contributing to furthering the mission of SBM became a core activity of the Young Professionals.

The YPs tried to involve GP members and staff to accelerate building and using toilets and approached banks to provide soft loans to poor families. (Image: SCOPE)

The Young Professionals worked closely with the District and aimed to fill the gap of the Swachchata Dooths. The Young Professionals did the following with regard to toilets:

  • Stayed in the village and understood the problem of open defecation through interaction with the community
  • Visited households to understand the reasons for the families to have not built toilets, be it space, financial, psychological, socio-cultural etc.
  • Tried to solve the problems of the families by intense interaction with them and talking to other stakeholders like Gram, Taluk and Zilla Panchayats (PRIs) and banks
  • Participating in gram panchayat meetings and making members aware of the problem and ways to solve them
  • Involving gram panchayat members and staff in the campaigns to accelerate building and using toilets
  • Talking to banks whenever possible, to provide soft loans to families especially in case of the poor
  • Got involved in building toilets, negotiation for materials, facilitating application by the families to the gram panchayat, the release of grants by the gram panchayat to the families
  • Facilitating application to banks for loans and facilitating approval of loans

Through their intervention with the community and Gram Panchayats, the Young Professionals could understand that there were several hurdles in building individual latrines, delay in the release of grants after building of toilets, the inability of the family to arrange for 10 to 15 thousand rupees to build the toilet, lack of space for toilets, behavioural blocks,  and so on. They set about to overcome them one by one and help families to build toilets.

They could convince the villagers about the positive impacts of using toilets and make sure that all members of households were using toilets. They also made efforts to repair and clean community latrines, anganwadi and school latrines. Apart from these activities, Young Professionals also interacted with the youths.

From the work done by the Young Professionals, it is clear that serious and sincere efforts to work with the community, making them think about the problems of open defecation results in very good outputs.

Our study observed that before the intervention of Young Professionals many households were not using toilets and were thinking that open defecation was better. Due to their intervention, these very same people not only built toilets but 81% of all the members of the family are using the toilet.

From the work of the Young Professionals, it has become clear that what the villagers lack is more social input than money. The mere provision of money cannot solve the problem, and in fact, may complicate things. It must be high on the agenda of all those working on Rural Sanitation, to plan an inspired social input with the Professionals actually based in the village rather than being external experts who are often inaccessible. The Zilla Panchayats need to look into it and build a motivated team to facilitate Swachh Bharat Mission or any other government programme on WASH.



This paper is part of SCOPE-Arghyam Water and Sanitation (WatSan) Fellowship Programme-II Cycle, implemented by SCOPE from July 2014 to March 2016. Twelve Young Professionals (YPs), men, graduated from the fellowship. The author expresses sincere thanks to SCOPE, Dharwad and Arghyam Bangalore. I am thankful to the Young Professionals who worked hard in the selected villages. I thank the households in selected samples for participation. The interpretations, results and conclusions articulated herein are entirely those of the author and should not be attributed to SCOPE or Arghyam institution.

Post By: Amita Bhaduri