New Delhi: “I don’t have space to build toilets at my place, if I will waste my house for building a toilet, then if someone dies at my house, then where will I keep the dead body,” these were the words that Ushma Goswami, a post graduate from Delhi University and a UPSC aspirant, heard when she tried to convince the villagers of Mysuru district in Karnataka to build a toilet in their house. However, the 23-year-old never gave up on her battle against open defecation, and today, after 10 months of sheer perseverance Ushma has succeeded in her mission and has built over 75 toilets in Seehalli Panchayat and Kodagahalli Panchayat in Bannur Hobali Village.
Before getting into the race of a Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) rank and a job, I wanted to see and experience the work on field and get an idea that will I be able to do justice to the job I am applying for and that’s the reason why I planned to devote one year of my life in services where I can implement my knowledge and solve problems, says Ushma Goswami who got selected for the SBI Youth for India Fellowship in 2016 and decided to work in the area of governance.
Explaining about the fellowship programme, Ushma added, “The programme is a 13-month long course that enables youth to work on rural development project with reputed NGOs with a vision to transform the rural people lives. As a part of my project I chose to work with an NGO named DHAN foundation.”
The Start Of Ushma Goswami’s Mission
On August 2016, Ushma, who was born and brought up in Chandigarh and had been in Delhi for the past five years, reached B. Seehalli Panchayat in Bannur Hobali Village of Mysore District as a part of her project with SBI Youth for India Fellowship.
I chose to work on a paralegal clinic in that panchayat so that I can provide legal advice and resolve small issues at the panchayat level, however, it never went as I planned. I didn’t know their language, they didn’t know mine. I would wait for hours and hours in my paralegal clinic for the panchayat to come and join me, but no one use to turn up. I felt like giving up, thought, I can run back to my home, but somehow I stayed, added Ushma Goswami.
Soon, in order to connect with the villagers, Ushma started going to the Anganwadi every day.
I used to go there every single day, children and parents started recognising my face. My NGO also helped me, it provided me with a translator, I downloaded an app and started leaning Kannada. As I spoke to the villagers I realised that they have no interest in the legal affairs, the bigger problem for them was that they don’t have an access to toilets. And, that was it; I decided to act upon it, explained Ushma Goswami.
Meanwhile, someone from Kodagahalli Panchayat of the same village approached Ushma Goswami for helping them build toilets and that’s when Ushma took charge for both the panchayats – B. Seehalli and Kodagahalli and from January till now, she helped the villagers build some 75 toilets.
On The Road To End Open Defecation
First, Ushma Goswami started surveying the panchayats; the findings of the survey revealed that there are some 400 households that need a toilet. Then the battle against open defecation begun, Ushma started going door to door to educate the masses about the benefits of having a toilet and why defecating in the open is dangerous.
I found out that there were two reasons why the villagers never had toilet – one was money and second was space. Together with the help of my NGO, we decided to help the unfortunate villagers build toilets by giving them loan and those who can afford to build a toilet, we decided to help them out with their paper work so that they can get the money from the government later under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, explains Ushma.
So, Ushma Goswami undertook the process of documents collection to build the toilets so that villagers can get the government subsidy later which is Rs 12,000 and Rs. 15,000 for SCs and STs.
For the villagers to get the subsidy later it is necessary that required documents are submitted to the panchayats like ration card or Aadhaar card, caste certificates, passbook and a passport size photograph, I decided to arrange for all those documents and submit on my own to the panchayats. I realised, many of them never had the necessary documents, and I started helping them out by arranging their papers. It is a tough job, many times, they used to send me back saying they don’t have a scanned copy. But, I never gave up, I downloaded a scanner on my phone and started clicking the pictures of necessary documents on my phone and used to get it printed in my office. Almost 120 documents have been submitted by me to the panchayats, the progress is slow but is good, said Ushma.
These villagers will never forget Ushma Goswami, not just because she helped the villagers build toilets, but for changing their aged-old thinking – ‘open defecation is a normal practice and there is no harm in it.’ Now, the villagers understand the ill-effects of defecating in the open and every day by looking at each other, many more are getting motivated to have toilets in their homes.
Talking about the future plans, Ushma Goswami said she has spoken to the district officer of the village and is aiming to build community toilet in a personalised way for villagers who don’t have space in their home for a toilet. The toilet will be built in the government allocated areas and will belong to the respective families only.
Convincing people to build a toilet was no cakewalk, I had to go through a lot of difficulties to influence them but I finally won over many of them. Look I have built over 75 toilets now, my ultimate goal is to build over 200 by August this year. The Changemaker signs off by adding, I am so glad I have devoted one year of my life to this, if I can help so many people, I am sure there will be many like me who can do this small task. Take charge and do your bit for society, it’s never too late!
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