Four years ago, in 2014, Monika Ijardar was studying for her first semester exams in college. When the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched across India that year, she decided to attend a training session to understand what the buzz was about.
This training session would completely alter Monika’s outlook and change the lives of people in 82 villages!
“After my first training, I went ahead to attend more sessions. During that, I came across the instances that shook me to the core,” Monika told NDTV. “I saw one lady [die] in front of me–the reason of death was hunger,” she added. The old lady suffered from a stomach infection that prevented the absorption of nutrients from the food she consumed. Monika explained, “The cause of stomach infection was unhygienic surroundings–the lady was bedridden and used the same place for sleeping, sitting, eating and even for defecating/urinating.”
Shaken by the tragic consequences of defecating in the open, Monika decided to work towards the betterment of villagers in Chhattisgarh.
Another gruesome news confirmed her motivation to make villages free from open defecation. She recalled, “I also heard cases where a child went to defecate in the open and was raped. That was the time I decided I would work day and night and try and save lives of as many people as I can.”
The first step, Monika knew, was to motivate people to construct toilets in their houses and refrain from going out. She approached every family and spoke to people about the importance of having a well-constructed toilet in their house.
She went a step further and trained people to construct low-cost toilets at home.
This would solve two purposes–make the villagers self-sufficient and reduce their dependency on outsiders for the toilet construction. Moreover, this could be done without spending much from their pockets.
Convincing anyone to change their lifestyle is not a task to be fulfilled overnight. Often, people defend their habits because they have been following them for a long time. They might be reluctant on listening to your rationale and may even shun you on pursuing them. For these reasons, Monika had to resort to extremities to convince villagers, and especially women, to have a toilet constructed in their homes.
“I tried motivating the women and girls of the house–with questions like ‘how can you showcase your private areas to the public like that’, ‘why don’t you make a toilet when you have the option’ etc.,” Monika shared.
Slowly but surely, Monika started achieving what she had in mind.
Villagers in Chhattisgarh were convinced about Monika’s arguments, and within the first fortnight of her work, her block was declared free of open defecation. And for her, this was just the beginning.
Today, Monika has helped 82 Gram Panchayats, and one district to become completely open defecation free. She started at a young age of 19 years and within four years helped around 1,500 families build toilets in their homes.
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“Today, they all are enjoying the benefits of having a toilet at home. I won’t stop my fight. I have made Raigarh free from open defecation. I will make sure more and more district[s] get the benefit of a toilet,” said Monika.
She was recently honoured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for having brought behavioural change, sanitation and toilets to her village and Gram Panchayats. Monika vows to add more districts and Gram Panchayats to this list.
“If my actions can save someone’s life, I would like to do that forever,” is her life’s motto.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)